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Civil legal aid cut to the bone

15 November 2010

The government has this afternoon outlined a drastic package of legal aid cuts, cutting civil legal aid to the bone and promising to reintroduce competitive tendering for criminal work.

In what would amount to the most radical reshaping of the legal aid scheme since its foundation in 1949, civil advice would only be available where the government believes it is necessary to meet its minimum legal obligations.

Family legal aid would be limited to cases involving children being taken into care, domestic violence, child abduction and forced marriage. There would continue to be funding for mediation.

Legal aid would no longer available for housing cases, other than those involving homelessness or serious disrepair, debt advice, where there is no risk of repossession and welfare benefits, other than for judicial reviews.

The following areas of civil legal aid would be removed from the scheme completely: employment, consumer, education and immigration, where an individual is not detained.

Medical negligence would also disappear from the legal aid scheme, with would-be claimants having to rely on the new funding regime left by the Jackson reforms.

In a separate consultation paper released today, ministers gave strong support to the core essentials of the Jackson report.

Recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums would be abolished. To soften the blow for claimants there would a ten per cent increase in general damages, qualified costs shifting and the introduction of contingency fees.

While the scope of criminal legal aid has survived in its original shape, the government has promised to reintroduce competitive tendering.

Under the green paper there would be big cuts in the fees paid to lawyers, with a ten per cut “across the board” for civil legal aid and a similar cut for experts.

Lawyers who take an either way case to the Crown Court will be paid at the magistrates’ court rate. The same fee would be paid following a guilty plea in the Crown Court, regardless of when the plea was made.

Speaking to journalists at the Ministry of Justice this afternoon, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said the government’s priority was to protect those with problems concerning their liberty and security or where their children were at risk.

He repeated his belief that people were “too willing to hand over their personal problems to their state” and to “run to the courts”.

Djanogly said that although he did not want to get into the “rights and wrongs” of the green paper at this stage, taxpayers believed the system was too generous.

On Jackson, he said the “compensation culture” needed to be addressed, and that it had become “too easy” to get conditional fee agreements, with the result that claimants very often had no interest in the costs of litigation.

He added that the government’s plans amounted to a comprehensive review of legal aid in the context of private provision

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Police & Prisons Children Local government