Around 6,000 vulnerable children will suffer if the House of Commons rejects amendments from the Lords when it reconsiders the legal aid bill tomorrow, children’s coalition JustRights has warned.
James Kenrick, co-chair of JustRights, said the MoJ had admitted that 13 per cent of cases involving children under 18 would no longer qualify for legal aid.
During its third reading at the end of last month, peers passed an amendment, backed by Baroness Grey-Thompson, which would retain legal aid for all children under 18. The MoJ has estimated that this would cost £5m to £6m.
Kenrick said the government insisted that 97 per cent of public funding for cases involving children would remain after the legal aid cuts, a figure it recently reduced to 96 per cent.
However, Kenrick said the government had “never used” the figure of 13 per cent. He said the cases no longer covered would be immigration (2,490 cases), welfare benefits (1,330), housing (430) and debt (280).
“Virtually all these cases involve 16 or 17-year-olds who are living independently,” Kenrick said. “They could be care leavers or asylum seekers.”
He said the figures he had obtained from the MoJ took into account that some cases would get exceptional funding.
“After months of disingenuous claims by government ministers, these new figures reveal the true, shocking extent of the impact on children of this appalling piece of legislation,” he said.
“The government has the chance on Tuesday to finally make good its claim that it wants to protect children from cuts to legal aid.
“If it does not, we now know that thousands of highly vulnerable children, often with little or no parental support, will be left to navigate alone a legal system which is daunting enough even for competent adults.”