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Legal aid budget too easy a sacrificial victim in government spending review. Access to justice for 2 million vulnerable people now under threat (20 October 2010)

Date: 20/10/2010
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, Legal aid budget too easy a sacrificial victim in government spending review.  Access to justice for 2 million vulnerable people now under threat

For release: 20 October 2010

As Britain's biggest provider of legal aid services, Duncan Lewis is shocked at today’s announced cuts in the legal aid budget, which fared worse than many other departments. Despite the fact that over 2 million vulnerable people depend on legal aid for access to justice, the Minister of Justice Kenneth Clark MP has clearly been unable able to put their case sufficiently strongly during the comprehensive public spending review. A £350 million reduction in the legal aid budget will have a dramatic impact on the protection of their legal rights and give force to the theme of one law for the rich and one for the poor.

Sadly, it made no difference that this frontline service, costing little more than 0.3% of all public expenditure, already delivers exceptional value; or that in the past five years, the number of people helped by the legal aid scheme nearly doubled whilst funding for it hardly changed.

At the same time, with the prospect of rising unemployment, our experience shows that incidence of issues such as domestic violence and mental health will grow, leading to a much greater demand for legal aid services. The net result therefore of today’s announcement is an attack on the welfare of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

In the absence of any detail, we remain concerned that certain types of case will be removed from public funding without a thorough assessment of the detrimental impact. For example, the Minister has been reported as saying that parties to a divorce should use mediation and not the courts. This of course completely ignores the reason why they are there in the first place: an inability to address their differences in a non-confrontational manner. Should this be the case, the outcome will be that thousands of women will be at the mercy of their recalcitrant husbands with no protection from the courts. At the same time, it is also unclear whether the anomalies in the criminal legal budget - that lead to 50% of it in the crown courts being consumed by 1% of the cases - have been addressed. We therefore eagerly await the publication of the Ministry’s four-year business plan and hope that there is an opportunity for a dialogue on it.

For more than sixty years, thanks to the Legal Aid & Advice Act (1949), the UK has been able to be proud, both at home and internationally, of giving life to a principle first outlined in the Magna Carta (1215): we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right. This fundamental democratic right has now been severely compromised by today’s cuts.

As Duncan Lewis Chief Executive Shany Gupta comments, "Legal aid has never been a vote winner, so it was an all too easy sacrificial victim in the Government’s spending review. But this will cause considerable misery amongst the 2 million vulnerable people every year who depend on legal aid for their access to justice."

To interview Shany Gupta and for further information, please call Lionel Salama on 020 7420 5870 and 07597 206 236 or email lionel@hype.co.uk

About the firm
Duncan Lewis provides more legal aid services than any other UK law firm: every year, it gives over 20,000 people a voice in the legal system. The firm plays a key role in holding Government and other public bodies to account with over 300 Judicial Review cases currently lodged in the High Court – more than any other firm in the country. And last year, it had twenty House of Lords and Court of Appeal reported cases.

Established in 1998 by three people, Duncan Lewis has grown rapidly and now employs over 400 people in six sites across London. Its staff come from and represent over 60 ethnic groups, and more than 60% of them are women. We are particularly strong in the provision of law in areas such as Immigration, Public Law, Crime, Family & Child Care, Housing, Social Welfare and Mental Health.


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