Legal aid training scheme cuts will hit the poor hardest

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the shadow legal aid minister Lord William Bach joined forces yesterday to condemn the Government for scrapping the legal aid training contract grants scheme.

Our guest writer is Sundip Meghani, a lawyer who works closely with a number of local and national organisations, including The Law Society and Leicestershire Police

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the shadow legal aid minister Lord William Bach joined forces yesterday to condemn the Government for scrapping the legal aid training contract grants scheme. Emails have been sent out to dozens of people by the Legal Services Commission (LSC), with the legal aid minister telling a group of lawyers about the plan in person on Wednesday morning.

The scheme, which was introduced by Labour in 2002 and costs the average UK taxpayer around eight pence per annum, helped to create more than 750 new legal aid solicitors over the last eight years. Now, however, there will be fewer solicitors in future to help those who cannot afford to pay, further disenfranchising those who earn little or nothing at all from having access to justice.

Moreover the cuts threaten to jeopardise hundreds of potential new jobs over the next few years, with far fewer training contract places available for legal practice course (LPC) graduates, who are already struggling to overcome so many barriers within the profession.

Take Daniel Harrison for example, a trainee solicitor from Eastbourne who benefitted from the scheme. He told Left Foot Forward yesterday that he wouldn’t have got a training contract at his firm without the training contract grant. With part of his salary being paid by the grant, it allowed him to carry out work that. whilst not always being particularly profitable, did in fact serve to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Lord Bach, meanwhile, told Left Foot Forward:

“This is a mean decision which will lead to some skilled and committed young lawyers not choosing the legal aid path, but looking to other parts of the law.

“Everyone knows that there may have to be some savings in the total legal aid budget, but to cancel this superb scheme which has worked so well for the last 8 years in order to save £2.6 million, looks petty and incredibly short-sighted.

“A Labour Government would not have made this decision and I hope to raise the issue in Parliament in the next few days.”

Beth Forrester of the Junior Lawyers Division said:

“The JLD is acutely aware that the current financial climate has had a grave impact on the availability of training contracts throughout the profession, but we are very disappointed to see that those junior lawyers in particular, who are looking to progress in an area of law which is of maximum benefit to the community, are going to be hardest hit.”

Comments echoed by Grace Brass, council member for junior lawyers on the Law Society’s governing body:

“If we do not support the training of legal aid lawyers now, the future looks bleak for the profession and society as a whole.”

The Junior Lawyers Division’s next quarterly meeting is on Saturday, with an emergency discussion and response to the cuts set to take place. The Ministry of Justice was unavailable for comment.

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