Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Fighting Cuts To Legal Aid
On Sunday we held an important meeting addressed by Juliette Frangos of the Chesterfield Law Centre under the title "Fighting Cuts To Legal Aid".
On 29 June the Commons passed the Second Reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill by 295 votes to 212. Yesterday the Bill moved into its Committee Stage where it receives more detailed scrutiny, although the Coalition Government have a built in majority on that Committee and they are committed to the general trust of its proposals.
If passed into law as the measure stands, it will have a devastating impact on the provisions of legal aid for masses of vulnerable people. It will remove legal aid for 100% of cases concerning welfare benefits, 100% of cases concerning employment law and 75% of cases involving new debts - with the other 25% of funding only being available via a Government telephone line for those whose homes are at immediate risk of being taken from them. On average 46% of Law Centre funding, to provide services for those who can not afford otherwise to obtain help from solicitors, comes from Legal Aid and without it many will face closure. Those who remain will be hamstrung in their work. Yet Law Centres, that were established because the original Legal Aid scheme had failed to address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, have been providing crucial services to those most in need of legal assistance ever since 1970. Now almost 70% of Legal Aid funding is earmarked to be cut with some cuts beginning as early as this October.
Because the proposed legislation covers a wide area, the issue of the massive cuts in legal aid is in danger of failing to get a full and fair hearing in the Commons. Nor is it a matter that is receiving the attention from the media which it should be given. Campaigning to defend access to Legal Aid is, therefore, crucial.
As a consequence of our meeting on the topic, I was asked to seek out ways and means by which our group could involve itself in moves to defend current legal aid provisions. As a starter, I provide the links below to two campaigns which I have signed up to. I hope that others will also do this. The links also provide further details of of the devastating impact of the proposed legislation. There is a need for all of us to do whatever we can to block the measure.
See Sound Off For Justice and Justice For All
The campaigning organisation 38 Degrees (which as you will see has a valuable track record) runs an opening entitled "What should we campaign on next?". I will now submit this item to them and press for their support. It would help considerably if others also raised the issue with them via the above link.