At the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference party members voted overwhelmingly against Ken Clarke and Lord McNally’s plans to cut legal aid by £350 million.
By Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off for Justice campaign
Last week the government received six significant defeats in the House of Lords over their cuts in legal aid – and yesterday at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference party members voted overwhelmingly against Ken Clarke and Lord McNally’s plans to cut legal aid by £350 million in England and Wales.
This is a very significant vote as the bill is at its halfway stage in the Lords. It throws the progress of the bill into chaos and there are serious doubts if Parliament will have time to pass this parliamentary year.
Liberal Democrats have voted to ensure their MPs and the party must now push government to undertake a number of key steps, including:
(i). Before undertaking any further changes to legal aid, commission an independent study on the overall cost to public funds due to the impact on other budgets and other government departments as a consequence of any loss of access to adequate legal advice by those with housing, immigration, employment and education cases;
(ii). Ensure proper consideration be given for the scope for savings to be made by improvements in Legal Services Commission decision-making and by reducing the costs of appeals by raising the quality of first decisions by public authorities;
(iii). Reject any changes to legal aid which lead to significant reductions in access to justice, a lack of sustainability of public funded legal services or false economies as a result of knock-on costs to public funds of cuts to legal aid.
We will watch with interest to see what Lord McNally will say when he returns to the Lords on Monday to debate the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill. He has failed to get support for this bill from Tories, Lib Dems and Crossbench peers. Now his own party are telling him the cuts won’t work.
It is a good opportunity for him to change his tune and stop pedalling his cuts which are based in pure fantasy.
• Osborne’s slashing of legal aid: Another false economy 10 Jan 2012
• Poor and vulnerable will lose out most from Justice Bill 29 Jun 2011
This is a welcome development from the members of the Liberal Democrats and it will interesting to see if Tom Brake MP and Alan Beith MP will now work to make this bill better, and to see what Nick Clegg will do. We hope they will campaign against using financial privilidge to overturn all the votes in the lords.
The fact is the governments cut’s in legal aid will cost the taxpayer between £129 million to £372 million in knock on costs. The alternative we have presented to government is to save £390 million and still protect the most vulnerable.
On Monday and Wednesday Lord McNally will have to convince peers we have a ‘compensation culture’ in the UK so they support the Jackson’s Reforms for changes in ‘No Win No fee’. Some people have called this a charter for the insurance industry to make money. The government’s figures indicate that in the UK we have very high road traffic accidents making up a total of 80% of all claims while genuine claims for personal injury are only 20%.
Lords that will vote on Monday agree we have a very high level of road traffic accidents but that the government has taken care of this problem with legislation, so we do not need the Jackson Reforms at all. The legislation the government wants to pass will stop genuine claims for victims of clinical negligence. It will deny access to justice for millions of middle class, middle income voters.
As Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said:
“By removing the right to recover legal and insurance costs incurred under ‘no win, no fee’ deals, many owners of small businesses will be severely restricted in their ability to pursue bad debtors through the courts. Cash-strapped business and new entrepreneurs can’t afford to stand up for their rights and lose up to 25% of compensation in the process.
“That’s what ministers are proposing.”
If you believe these proposals are wrong then please support the campaign and Sound off for Justice.