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Peers attack lack of evidence on impact of legal aid cuts

11 January 2012

Peers have attacked the government’s failure to produce evidence of the impact of its legal aid cuts in the latest debate at the House of Lords.

Lord Bach, the former justice minister, called for a “full, independent impact assessment” of the cuts before the bill was implemented.

He said the government had “failed to get to grips with serious consequences” of its legislation.

“They simply have not quantified the impact of the cuts on the individuals involved, on society and on the public purse.”

The Labour peer said the government’s own impact assessment, in its response to the consultation on the bill, said the cuts threatened “reduced social cohesion”, “increased criminality” and “reduced business and economic efficiency”.

Lord Bach went on: “Those are pretty extraordinary statements. It sounds a bit like the end of the world, does it not? If this legislation results in reduced social cohesion and increased criminality, it will go not only against everything that the government support – a big society, and, of course, less crime – but against everything that all of us believe in, which is more social cohesion and less criminality.

“The government cannot be accused of not being honest. They are honest to a fault if this is what they say will be the consequence of their bill. However, they can be criticised for putting forward a bill which in their opinion will have those consequences.”

Lord Bach referred to the report by Dr Graham Cookson at King’s College, London, which calculated that the cost of removing private family law, social welfare and medical negligence from the scope of the scheme would be at least £139m (see solicitorsjournal.com, 9 January 2012).

Lord Bach said the report’s “cautious conclusions” were “pretty devastating”, particularly that the cost of cutting legal aid for medical negligence would be £28.5m to achieve a saving of £10.5m.

He concluded: “This is not an insignificant bill. It has profound effects on access to justice and people’s actual lives.

“It is a fair argument, I hope, that the least that we could expect as legislators is that there would be a better assessment of the costs in both social and economic terms of the bill before us. In my view, there is not that analysis. That is disappointing – in fact, I think it is scandalous.”

Lord Pannick, a cross-bencher, agreed with Lord Bach that it was “very surprising” that the government had conducted “no serious analysis of the facts” relating to impact of the bill before bringing the legislation before parliament.

A report by Resolution released this week predicted that three quarters or more of family legal aid clients would no longer get access to public funding if the legal aid bill went through (see solicitorsjournal.com, 9 January 2012).

The bill will return to the Lords for further debate on the committee stage on Monday.

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Legal Aid