On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path

If the government continues with planned legal aid cuts, they will find strong opposition from all sides in both Houses of Parliament, and from all decent people, writes Lord Bach.

Lord Willy Bach is a shadow justice minister

Today in the House of Commons, a backbench debate secured by Yvonne Fovargue, the Labour MP for Makerfield and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, will see members from all sides of that House, as well as my colleagues from the shadow justice team, argue the case against cuts to Legal Aid.

Yvonne spent twenty years as chief executive of St Helens Citizen Advice Bureau and knows the kind of problems that CABs deal with and the benefit they bring to society. Over the past few months I’ve met with dozens of groups from around the advisory and justice sectors; just the areas where these cuts are targeted.

It is estimated that very few of the 56 Law Centres around the country will survive the 68 per cent cuts to civil legal aid help. Over half of CABs are likely to shut because of cuts to the Legal Aid budget, cuts to local authority budgets and the withdrawal of the Financial Inclusion Fund. It was announced just this week that virtually all of Birmingham’s Citizens Advice Bureaux will close.

How will those that find themselves mired in debt, at risk of homelessness or trying to escape a marriage in which they suffer domestic violence be able to cope without the expertise of this sector?

In my time as the Minister for Legal Aid in the last government, I made it quite clear that I felt there was too much spent on criminal and some family legal aid, and not enough spent in the welfare law sector.

Everyone agrees that good early advice saves money in the long run. Research (pdf) shows that every £1 of legal aid expenditure on housing, debt, benefits and employment advice potentially saves the state far more – up to £8.80 in the case of benefits advice, for example. So why is the government determined to decimate and destroy this area of law?

The government’s choices, rushed through without sufficient consultation or thought, are simply the wrong ones. They have chosen to pick on the wrong area of the legal aid budget, and at a time in which it is most needed. They have chosen to remove funding from the advisory sector which actually saves money by nipping problems in the bud and preventing them from escalating into complex and costly problems.

How could the Lib Dems in particular sign up to this?

When governments choose, society is forced to accept the results of their decisions. In this case their hurried choices, at the behest of a prime minister and chancellor that claim “we are all in it together”, will radically alter the way our society functions. It will make things less fair, less efficient and less effective.

There is still time for the Secretary of State for Justice to change his mind. Legislation has not yet been published – but if the government continues down this disastrous path they will find strong opposition from all sides in both Houses of Parliament, and even more importantly, from all decent people in this country.

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14 Responses to “On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path”

  1. Imran Ahmed

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path: http://bit.ly/htEcjM writes shadow justice minister Lord Bach

  2. imranahmed1978

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path: http://bit.ly/htEcjM writes shadow justice minister Lord Bach

  3. Alan G

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path: http://bit.ly/htEcjM writes shadow justice minister Lord Bach

  4. John Baxter

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path: http://bit.ly/htEcjM writes shadow justice minister Lord Bach

  5. Haldane Society

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path: http://bit.ly/htEcjM writes shadow justice minister Lord Bach

  6. scandalousbill

    “When governments choose, society is forced to accept the results of their decisions. In this case their hurried choices, at the behest of a prime minister and chancellor that claim “we are all in it together”, will radically alter the way our society functions. It will make things less fair, less efficient and less effective.

    I think it is far more than that. The proposed restrictions reflect a clear class bias in denial of access to legal representation.

    The example of legal aid restriction in the instance of home repossession is a case in point. Legal aid will only be available in instances were loss of the individuals home has been demonstrated. This is the final step in repossession procedure and is a little bit late for the individual to affect anything with regard to their home. Given the dramatic loss of CAB funding, rising unemployment and child benefit cutbacks, it seems likely that a great many people will suffer where there was previously a basic level of protection, support and advice.
    This is just one example of many. The notion of equality before the law is destroyed by denial of the equality of access before the law.

  7. Sue Bristow

    RT @leftfootfwd: On legal aid, the government has chosen the wrong path http://bit.ly/gKXYdk

  8. Mr. Sensible

    This cut will restrict access to justice.

    That is a fact.

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Baron Bach? Lord Willy Bach?

    Oh I see. The Labour Party now uses Lords in the shadow cabinet who are born into a life of privilege and have never earned a single vote from a single person in this country and can’t be booted out.

    Then this turkey doesn’t vote for Christmas and LFF are surprised.

    Is it me or does no one else see the irony of unelected lords in the shadow cabinet? What happened to Labour’s socialist leanings?

  10. Patrick Torsney

    I met Lord Bach a couple of years ago at the Advice Services Alliance annual conference and, much to my surprise, I actually found him very genuine and credible, particularly in his desire to protect and develop social welfare law

    However, here we are with a new government. The current proposed butchery of legal aid, like just about every other one of ‘the cuts’ hits the poorest in our society – not only those who are already in that bracket, but the countless number who will form the ‘nouveau poor’ once they’ve lost their jobs, been refused state benefits and so on. What have we become when we think rhetoric such as “a compelling case for reform…” somehow makes this acceptable?

  11. Foster & Partners

    RT @CLCUK: VG comment here on legal aid from left foot forward… http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/02/legal-aid-cuts-debate/

  12. 13eastie

    Can’t think why the shadow justice minister, and founder of professional ambulance-chasers “Christian Khan”, would be unhappy about cutting the UK legal aid bill (which is an order of magnitude larger per capita than the rest of Europe).

  13. Richard

    Oh look, there he is again, super troll benefit scrounger mickey mouse.

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