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Further legal aid cuts ruled out as bill put on ice

9 June 2011

Ken Clarke has vowed not to plunder the legal aid budget any further in light of the sentencing reform shambles.

"The flurry of nonsense in recent days will not lead to more cuts in legal aid," justice secretary Clarke said today during a meeting with the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division.

The government has again delayed publication of the legal aid bill, which is now not expected before the end of the month.

Legal aid will form part of the same bill as the sentencing reforms, which Clarke was told to drop at the eleventh hour.

The bill was expected early next week, with parliament sources indicating there would be no concessions made on the £350m cuts to legal aid despite sweeping criticisms lodged in the 5,000 responses to the consultation paper in February.

Labour’s shadow legal aid minister, Andy Slaughter, said: “Ken Clarke should go back to the drawing board on legal aid and civil litigation reform as well as sentencing. The government’s policy blunders are entirely of their own making and people with meritorious cases should not have to suffer as a result.”

The only amendments expected to appear in the legal aid bill are for domestic violence cases, with the definition for qualifying cases likely to be broader than in the green paper.

Richard Miller, the Law Society’s head of legal aid, said: “We have been telling the MoJ for the past year that these cuts were always going to cost more than they would save. We urge them to now accept our costed proposal as the only solution.”

Once published, the mammoth justice reform bill is anticipated to take at least one year to pass through parliament.

Labour sources have said shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan is doubtful of his chances of defeating the bill. The legal aid section in particular is expected to pass through the Commons unscathed, with the opposition instead hoping to use criticism of Lord Justice Jackson’s proposal on the reform of civil litigation costs and shorter sentences to pick apart the bill.

“I don’t think we will get them to change anything in the Commons,” a Labour source told Solicitors Journal. “It’s an absolute disaster waiting to happen.”

A spokesman at the Ministry of Justice refused to comment on whether legal aid plans would be affected by the sentencing rethink, stating: “We expect to publish in the next few weeks.”

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Legal Aid Courts & Judiciary