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Advice agencies welcome £20m funding

Legal aid providers vow to continue fight against cuts over fears of reduced access to justice

4 July 2011

Advice agencies have welcomed justice secretary Ken Clarke’s announcement that the government had found an additional £20m to help them cope with the impact of the legal aid cuts in the current financial year.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Ken Clarke deserves real praise for this extra money for free, independent advice services. It will go some way towards ensuring that vulnerable people can continue to get the advice they need.

“The government has at least listened to the representations that we and others have made about the importance of access to early advice.”

Clarke made the announcement during last week’s second reading of the legal aid bill, about which Guy said Citizens Advice remained “very concerned”.

She went on: “The problem is not just that the cuts are so deep – what’s left of civil legal aid will be inaccessible for too many people and unworkable for too many advice providers.”

Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Federation, also welcomed the new money but said it was unclear exactly what it would cover. “We remain opposed to the cuts in civil legal aid and will continue to oppose them,” she said. “The changes in the bill have a much wider impact than these funds can repair.”

Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, said the amount of money was “significant” and could pay for 500-700 advice sector posts.

Hynes said the funding was transitional, but Clarke had said they would look at continuing the fund beyond this year.

The justice secretary announced two further measures during last week’s Commons debate, removing legal aid from squatters and for “repeat judicial reviews”.

Otherwise, nothing was added to the list of minor concessions made when the bill was published earlier this month. The justice secretary said he was surprised by Lady Hale’s criticisms of the bill in a speech at the Law Society. Delivering the Sir Henry Hodge Memorial Lecture, Lady Hale said the cuts would have a “disproportionate impact upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society”.

She said the government’s own equality impact statement accepted that the cuts would have a disproportionate impact upon women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

“And they say that this is justifiable because they are disproportionate users of the service in these areas.

“This is an interesting argument about which I had better not say anything more, as it is bound to come before us in one shape or form in future.”

Lady Hale agreed with a comment from Judge Robert Martin, president of the Social Entitlement Chamber, who said the main flaw in the cuts was that they relied on thematic categories of law for determining who was in need.

“In real life, as we all know and research has shown, clients come with a variety of interlocking problems.

“Family breakdown can easily lead people into debt, if debts are not tackled early and in the right way, they can easily lead to homelessness. People need the right advice and they need it early, before things have escalated into court.”

Clarke said he had a “very high regard” for the Supreme Court justice, before adding: “I might have a meeting with her.”

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Divorce