The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) has welcomed comments, made during an eight hour debate in the House of Lords, that confirm our view that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill undermines the vital constitutional principals of England and Wales.
The comments were made by Lord Pannick as the bill was discussed at the House of Lords on Monday, 21 November 2011. Lord Pannick said to the House: “It (the bill) does not recognise that access to justice is a vital constitutional principle. I will be putting forward an amendment that states the Lord Chancellor must secure, within the resources made available, that individuals have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs.”
He continued: “The removal of legal aid will inevitably result in many hopeless claims being pursued by litigants in person because they will not have had objective legal advice.”
Lord Elystan-Morgan was even more forthright: “Unless a Government of the future pass a one-clause Bill to abolish legal aid completely, the contents of this Bill and the proposals surrounding them must constitute the most savage and most deadly attack upon the institution of legal aid in the 62 years of its existence”
Chief Executive of ILEX, Diane Burleigh, says: “The Bill contains clauses that allow for significant or total reductions in legal aid for civil issues which we believe will have a significant, negative impact on some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“The reforms will decimate the capacity of legal aid practitioners, Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureau to assist the most vulnerable people with serious everyday problems such as debt, employment, housing, immigration, clinical negligence and most private law family cases.”
ILEX sent a briefing to peers ahead of the Second Reading containing ILEX’s main concerns:
-The Bill will actually incur further cost, not save the public purse money. The best value for money legal aid will be cut (early advice can save the public purse up to £10 for every £1 invested).
-It will cost more in bureaucracy; and leaves vulnerable people with no access to free, independent and quality legal advice.
-The Bill’s proposals to restrict access to legal aid will mean that only the poorest will be eligible for legal aid and that many others, will be denied access to justice.
-At a stroke, legal aid will no longer be available for housing, debt, clinical negligence, employment and welfare benefits cases including most private family cases.
-The bill is based on serious misconceptions. Legal aid lawyers are not ‘fat cats’. The average legal aid lawyer earns £25,000 a year, less than the average salary among teachers and social workers.
-A high proportion of claimants will be worse off if they pursue a claim, losing up to 25% of their damages. For extremely serious injuries, this has implications for the NHS, with additional costs being incurred to care for the claimant.
-The double blow of restrictions on access to legal aid and making Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) more difficult to use will have a huge impact on some of the most vulnerable sections of our society, making it much more difficult for ordinary people to seek redress.
Diane Burleigh adds: “While we agree the legal aid system should be reformed to ensure high-quality legal aid services at an affordable cost to the taxpayer. We welcome the support the Bill gives to mediation cases, we cannot endorse a plan that effectively moth balls the only route many have to the basic human right of access to justice.
“Recently ILEX received a Royal Charter in recognition of its contribution to legal services provision and the greater public interest. We will continue to ensure that a fair society is an open society, in which every individual is free to succeed. Fair access to justice through legal advice can help the most vulnerable to be treated fairly and enhance social mobility.”