By Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off for Justice campaign
On Monday evening, the government bill to cut legal aid suffered defeats in the House of Lords. The government do not need to be in this position; the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (pdf) does not have to go the way of the welfare reform or NHS bills.
Lord McNally and the Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, know there is another option on the table. A few simple things can be done today that will save the taxpayer millions and protect the most needy in our society.
Today peers will vote on amendments that will decide the future of the legal aid budget for more than 645,000 women, children, families, pensioners and citizens in England and Wales.
Sound off for Justice, the Law Society and many of the groups campaigning against the bill all recognise we must save the taxpayer money. What is in contention is how we do this; what is ‘fair and reasonable’?
The impact assessment (pdf) in support of the cuts contains 15 separate statements that the Ministry of Justice does not have evidence for its predicted savings and 30 admissions that they are based on speculation.
So in essence they are asking peers and the taxpayer to take a punt on their cuts without any analysis of the financial impact – costs to us the taxpayers.
Much to the chagrin of Lord McNally we can give you the facts now:
• Today 250,000 cases of divorce receive legal aid. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to 40,000. This will leave leave 210,000 families and women with no support. This will cost the taxpayer an estimated £100 million in knock-on costs.
• Today family mediation is provided to 80,350 families and couples to prevent divorce cases going to court. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to 35,350. I will remind you that this is when the government are saying they want more cases to go to mediation.
It is impossible when the budgets are being cut. It is impossible to account for the knock on cost for the taxpayer. But the assumption is that without mediation more couples end up divorcing.
• The cuts to legal aid come on top of massive cuts already being experienced by advice services for young people.
Seventy five thousand children and young people are set to lose legal aid. An estimate that 6,000 children under the age of 18 and 69,000 vulnerable young adults aged 18 to 24 will lose access to legal aid in their own right as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
• It would cost just £10 million to protect legal aid for all children and £40 million to protect all young adults – figures dwarfed by the knock-on costs for government that will result from these cases being left unresolved.
In addition, 140,000 children will be affected by legal aid being removed from their parents. If the bill is passed then none will be supported out of poverty.
Proposed government saving is £60 million. This figure from the MoJ has no substance to it. It is not based in fact and due to lack of an impact assessment, no analysis of knock on costs and the fact they have no up-to-date accounts.
• Today 32,250 elderly people are helped with legal aid every year. This will be reduced to no help if the bill is passed. So if you go to hospital and have the wrong hip replaced you would have to sell your house to fight your case.
• Two thousand, three hundred and seven cases of clinical negligence are supported by the legal aid budget every year. These are cases where the NHS has carried out an operation that has gone wrong or ended in fatality.
It could be a child who is brain damaged at birth, a pensioner who has the wrong hip replaced, or someone who is killed under local anesthetic in an NHS hospital. If the bill is passed this number will be reduced to 807. The government proposed saving is £10.5 million; the actual cost to the taxpayer will be £28 million.
• Today 135,000 welfare claimants use legal aid to gain access to their rights. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to none. The government’s proposed saving is £25 million. Citizen advice has calculated that for each pound spent on the benefits advice the state saves £8.80.
If this support is axed the cost to the state and the taxpayer will be £220 million per annum.
These are the issues that peers must vote on today; let’s hope they win and we will deal with the financial privilege and the dirty tricks later.
Join the campaign here.
• Time for Ken Clarke to deliver peers the evidence on the real cost of legal aid cuts – Jonny Mulligan, March 5th 2012
• The insurance industry’s millions to the Tories are set to pay off – Alex Hern, January 30th 2012
• The principles of British fairness, the rule of law and Magna Carta are at stake – Jonny Mulligan, January 16th 2012
• Osborne’s slashing of legal aid: Another false economy – Dr Graham Cookson, January 10th 2012
• Disability minister ignorant on how legal aid cuts affecting disabled people – Alex Hern, January 10th 2012