Clarke must listen to the Lords and save legal aid for the most vulnerable in society

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan calls on Secretary of State Ken Clarke to listen to the House of Lords and abandon his proposed legal aid cuts.


Sadiq Khan MP (Labour, Tooting) is the shadow justice secretary and shadow Lord Chancellor

Over the past week, outrageous plans to target advice centres, like Citizens Advice Bureaux, have been stopped in their tracks. What we’ve seen is an alliance across all political parties in the House of Lords – including one of Thatcher’s former cabinet ministers – working with campaign groups such as the Women’s Institute, SCOPE and Shelter.

This alliance has blocked a bill which would have exposed victims of domestic violence, disabled people, those severely injured as a result of clinical negligence, children forcibly relocated by a parent, and victims of trafficking to no legal support.

I’m delighted these cruel proposals to cut social welfare legal aid have been stopped in their tracks and disgusted that Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, ever wanted to introduce them in the first place. But don’t be fooled by his spin that the actions this week are Labour trying to increase the deficit – this is wide of the mark for two reasons.

Firstly, the kinds of early stage legal intervention being protected save money down the line – independent research shows that large problems are avoided by nipping them in the bud, saving substantial time and effort for the taxpayer.

But, secondly, criminal legal aid, which takes the lion’s share of the overall budget, is being left relatively intact. Almost six times the spending that goes on Citizens Advice and law centres is paid to solicitors and barristers, with half going on 1 per cent of cases.

Proposals from March 2010, floated by Labour when in government, would have saved a further 10% from the budget by introducing proper competition. This has bizarrely been ignored by this government. It could pay for all their cuts to advice to the vulnerable and more.

The question for Ken Clarke QC, a former barrister himself, is why go after those elements of legal aid which whack the most vulnerable in society when there’s a report collecting dust on a shelf in his office which would have prevented these savage cuts. Even the TaxPayers’ Alliance can see that Ken is wrong on this.

I know Ken Clarke revels in being unpopular at the moment, but I urge him to break this habit, listen to the siren calls, and save this important area of legal aid threatened by his unfair bill.

See also:

Tory and Crossbench peers lead the revolt against Clarke’s legal aid cutsJonny Mulligan, March 9th 2012

The financial and personal cost of the legal aid cuts laid bareJonny Mulligan, March 7th 2012

Time for Ken Clarke to deliver peers the evidence on the real cost of legal aid cutsJonny Mulligan, March 5th 2012

The insurance industry’s millions to the Tories are set to pay offAlex Hern, January 30th 2012

Osborne’s slashing of legal aid: Another false economyDr Graham Cookson, January 10th 2012

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.