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Labour pledges to reverse legal aid cuts

25 September 2019

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Labour has extended its pledge to reverse the Conservatives’ cuts to legal aid within the first 100 days if it is voted into government, according to shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon.

Labour had previously committed to reversing Tory cuts on legal aid for housing cases, family law and welfare benefit appeals, but Burgon (pictured) told the Labour party conference this week that this will now be extended to Early Legal Help.

This would restore legal aid for immigration cases, employment, debt, and mental health cases.

Early Legal Help is the legal support that people receive before a lawyer represents them in the courts. It is the kind of advice, Burgon said, that many desperately need when faced with everyday problems such as flawed benefits decisions or rogue landlords.

He said a lack of early legal advice often creates extra costs for the taxpayer as cases go to court which could have been resolved earlier or spiral into costly social problems as people unnecessarily lose their homes or jobs.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has said that cuts in legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy.”

Burgon said: “Tory cuts to legal advice mean hundreds of thousands of people are unable to defend their hard-won rights. When that happens, equality before the law is a fiction, and without these protections people’s lives can often be torn apart.”

He also told the conference that Labour will order a comprehensive review of the Legal Aid Agency if it wins power.

He said the review would be “fully independent” and chaired by Steve Hynes, former director of Legal Action Group. A working party would be established to make recommendations on how to “properly and effectively administer” legal aid. 

Two years ago, in its Right to Justice report, the Bach Commission – established by Labour peer Lord Bach – called for the agency to be replaced with a body that was independent of the government.