Legal Aid cuts are designed to hit most vulnerable in society


by Guest    
3:30 pm - July 12th 2010

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contribution by Sundip Meghani

In yet another shocking example of how the least well-off in our society are now the Government’s lowest priority, new Tory legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly has scrapped the legal aid training/contract grant scheme.

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 8 years.

Legal aid lawyers are really the only professionally qualified people who can actually help those in desperate need for legal advice; from immigration matters and family breakdown, to citizen’s advice bureau and welfare centres, from criminal law and actions against the police, to debt and social housing problems.

But now thanks to the millionaire legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly, who unsurprisingly chose to train as a corporate finance solicitor himself rather than work in legal aid, 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 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 me, for this article, that he wouldn’t have gotten 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.Legal aid lawyers like myself are dwindling – there’s very little money in it! For people like us it’s more about helping others and making a difference, and working VERY hard to make a decent living.


Sundip is a lawyer by profession, a graduate of political science and modern history and vice-chair of the Leicester West Co-operative Party. You can follow Sundip on Twitter @Sundip.

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Reader comments


So we have another contendor for the “LC misleading headline of the week award” and yet another disingenuous article on Coalition cuts allegedly aimed at hurting the poor and disadvantaged.

Legal Aid lawyers are PAID to take on cases and according to the main article, there is currently a glut of lawyers and plenty are delighted to take on the work.

Over the past eight years, about 750 lawyers benefited from the scheme, which cost the government £3m per year.

So rich law firms have been subsidised to the tune of £32,000 per head to take on trainees on the pretext that we need more legal aid lawyers.

Yep. Cut that.

And what about this official line, do you dispute this to be the case?

“The grant scheme was a laudable idea, but the long-term future of legal aid is still assured with enough young lawyers continuing to enter the profession. Many firms offer training contracts without being funded by a grant. And there are alternative routes into practice, for example through the paralegal route.”

4. Flowerpower

Sundip

From your own link:

“When the scheme was introduced in 2002, we needed financial inducements for more young lawyers to enter the legal aid market. Time has moved on and we now have too many lawyers chasing too little work…

… and as for solicitors being among “the most vulnerable in society”, you need to get out more.

5. Shatterface

You know, we might not actually need so many lawyers if we didn’t have so many laws.

@Pagar – It’s not misleading. This cut will equate to fewer legal aid lawyers and accordingly, fewer people doing a very important job helping the most vulnerable in our society.

@Lee Griffin – Yes of course I dispute the “official line”. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have written the article. Incidentally the Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Shadow Legal Aid Minister have come out against this cut.

@ukliberty – Sadly that is correct and I have to agree with you.

@Flowerpower – See my above comment. You’re quoting the MoJ’s official line, which of course I and many others refute. Also nobody is saying that “solicitors being among [sic] ‘the most vulnerable in society’” – the article headline is referring to people in need of legal aid, who are amongst the most vulnerable in society. Thanks for the tip about getting out more, I shall heed your advice.

It’s not misleading.

You might as well have used “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster.”

Unless you are saying that the log jam in the system is the lack of lawyers being trained, then the cutback in grant subsidy to law firms to take on trainees cannot be responsible for the lack of legal aid facilities for the poor.

If you read the excellent article linked to by UK Liberty that might give you a clue to where the problem arose.

8. Matt Munro

“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 8 years.”

So 750 lawyers work for 8p a year between them ?

9. Matt Munro

“When the scheme was introduced in 2002, we needed financial inducements for more young lawyers to enter the legal aid market. Time has moved on and we now have too many lawyers chasing too little work…

Thats like saying there are too many policeman “chasing” too few criminals – in what possible sense could a lack of work for criminal lawyers be a bad thing

10. Chaise Guevara

“So 750 lawyers work for 8p a year between them ?”

Um, unless there is only one taxpayer in the UK, no.

“Legal aid lawyers are really the only professionally qualified people who can actually help those in desperate need for legal advice”

If only we could convince lawyers to give some of their time for free. Of course if it happened a lot then you might want a fancy Latin term for it, may I suggest “Pro Bono”.

I’m torn, do I believe the people that were receiving the money that don’t want to stop receiving money, or the people stopping the funds because they’re on a drive to cut costs?

To me you’ve not made a more compelling case than “They’re taking away my pocket money! Stop them!”

Sundip:

You dispute it, so are there not people coming to Legal Aid through the paralegal route? Are employers not offering the training without the grant subsidising them? How do you determine that there are not enough lawyers rather than the too many claimed by the MOJ?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  3. Jamie Potter

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  6. Sundip Meghani

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  14. The good old days « Paperback Rioter

    [...] Tories only pledged to let public spending rise slower than the growth of the economy, rather than cutting legal aid funding, 1,300,000 jobs, 715 school building projects and goodness knows what [...]

  15. Does it matter

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