Five things you need to know about the Legal Aid Bill


11:45 am - March 2nd 2012

by Clifford Singer    


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1. At least 500,000 people will be denied justice
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will deny legal aid to more than half a million people a year, according to the government’s own research. Legal aid will be removed from most cases relating to debt, family break-up (including contact with children), education, clinical negligence, welfare benefits, housing, employment and immigration.

The most vulnerable in society – those who are poor, old, disabled or mentally ill – will be hardest hit.

2. Legal aid cuts cost more than they save
The Ministry of Justice plans to cut legal aid by £350 million a year, but it will cost other government departments more. For example:

King’s College London found that cutting £10.5 million from clinical negligence advice will cost the NHS nearly three times as much. Citizens Advice Bureaux point out that housing advice costing £80 can save thousands for councils who are legally required to house homeless families.

The Ministry of Justice has admitted its predicted savings are based on speculation – and been reprimanded by the parliamentary justice and public accounts committees. Even those who normally support cuts, like former Tory minister Norman Tebbit and TaxPayers’ Alliance head Matthew Elliott, have joined the opposition.

3. The bill undermines the rule of law
In the words of the independent commission of inquiry into legal aid:

“There can be no semblance of equality before the law when those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer go unrepresented or receive a worse kind of representation than those who can.”

4. The voluntary sector can’t fill the gap
Law centres and citizens advice bureaux have already closed due to council cuts. Legal aid is a lifeline for many of the remaining centres.

5. It’s not just legal aid: the bill makes it harder for anyone without huge wealth to get justice
One alternative to legal aid is to instruct a solicitor on a no-win, no-fee basis.

But changes to the rules on insurance mean that those who lose cases may be exposed to massive debt – even the loss of their homes. Only the very wealthy will be able to afford the risk.


This is one of three simple fact-sheets published by False Economy website. There are others on the NHS Bill and the deficit.

PS – the version posted earlier was a draft version published too early by mistake. This is the final version.

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This is a guest contribution. Clifford Singer runs The Other Taxpayer's Alliance website. You can join the Facebook group here.
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Reader comments


There are some issues with the Bill but this article is not entirely accurate about the impact of the Bill.

1. “At least 500,000 people will be denied justice”

The research you cite is not actually government research it was originally from a group called Centre for Justice. Their pay cheques do of course count on legal aid. When they also say “denied justice” that is not what is strictly happening. The estimate is actually based on how many fewer claims there will be. This is not denying access to justice, it is limiting ones ability to bring a vexatious claims. There will, under the Bill, be far less incentive to bring a claim that is weak. Thus saving a burden on courts and public finances.

Also, it is incorrect to say that Legal aid will be removed for the cases you point out. There are many things that have been amended and changed that mean a lot of the groups you point out have been excluded. Similarly with the Human Rights issues, the only excluded group is the ability to bring a claim on behalf of someone else. (which was mad anyway, mainly for locus standi reasons)

2. “Legal aid cuts cost more than they save”

There will be an overall decrease in the cost of the legal service. Some sectors will however go up. Overall there will be a decrease.

3. “The bill undermines the rule of law”

I think you mean it undermines access to justice. Which, in the current form it slightly does, but not to the extent you claim.

4. “The voluntary sector can’t fill the gap”

You are right they can’t, but there is (with sme changes) hopefully going to be no gap to fill.

5. The statement relating to conditional fee agreement is rather far from the truth.

The recoverability of certain types of costs will be banned. This is welcomed. There are some individuals and businesses at the moment being stuck with cost bills that have been lifted 300%. This is because the main issue comes from the recoverability of not only costs, but also success uplifts and After the Event policies.

Some of the cost burdens have become so large that it has put employers out of business. Not great when everyone in a company looses their jobs because one guy tripped and broke his hip.

So the recoverability of CFA’s will be limited. There will be a 25% success fee cap, and at the same time there will be a 10% uplift in the damages for personal injuries to take account of the lawyer costs. ATE policies also look set to be irrecoverable.

Also the debate at the moment looks set to impose an exception to the Clinical Neg. given the cost of claims.

It will also introduce damages based agreements, which will open a supply of lawyers to take on claims.

Everyone should read the Jackson Report (the report on which this Bill is based, although not all of it, it is nearly 700 pages)

But the bill limits the amount lawyers can claim in successful cases to such an extent that public interest law firms may be forced to close. Legal representation will be a privilege of the rich.

Not quite.

All that will be unclaimable from the other side is the “success fee” – effectively a bonus which Solicitors/Barristers can claim for winning a case on a CFA/”No win no fee” basis.

It simply returns this situation to how it was before April 2000, and how it has always been in Scotland. In neither situation can the claim “Legal representation will be a privilege of the rich” realistically be made.

I also agree with what Freeman (#1) says on this point.

Would anyone like to provide some links here? I am not in the habit of believing unsubstantiated claims (especially when Freeman indicates (without a link though…)) that some may be misleading.

If you want to convince me this bill is wrong (and I am open to persuasion on this, as I know very little, and don’t trust the ministry and minister responsible), you need to provide evidence, not just rhetoric.

Please note that the above was draft text only!

The final factsheet has just been published on the False Economy website here:

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-legal-aid-bill

It does indeed have a very different point 5 to the one Freeman and D-Notice query.

Sunny – please correct ASAP!

Watchman – fair point about the lack of links. This text was actually taken from a draft pdf (see me now, Sunny!) – but two key bits of research are:

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/content/1/c6/08/81/08/UnintendedConsequencesFinalReport.pdf

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/towards_a_business_case_for_legal_aid.pdf

Freeman: “There will be an overall decrease in the cost of the legal service.”
Yes but the costs are shifted from Ministry of Justice budget to other government departments. The KCL report, linked above, (which only looks at part of the legal aid cuts, found that savings would be just 42% of what MoJ claims – and added “Numerous costs could not be estimated, and this figure is therefore likely to be a substantial underestimate of the true costs.”

The CAB report gives detailed break-downs of the saving generated by legal aid advice in a range of areas.

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/8EB9F3F3-9C4A-4139-8A93-56F09672EB6A/0/jacksonfinalreport140110.pdf

That is the actual Jackson review. It sets out the basis of the changes.

@Watchman

I agree the Bill is heading in the right direction. These changes do need to happen. However, there are a few amendment that need to happen. There is also a frightening lack of debate on the impact the Bill will have on the commercial sphere.

Freeman – the 500,000 figure is quoted by the MoJ in its own impact assessment. However, it may well be an underestimate:
http://legalactiongroupnews.blogspot.com/2011/03/lies-damn-lies-and-statistics.html

Until recently, I worked for quite a few years for a welfare rights organisation who’s major funding is via legal aid. This organisation advises and represents people who are at risk of homelessness, appealing incorrect welfare benefit decisions, and those dealing with immigration issues. Thousands of people every year, who otherwise would have had no help at all, received quality advice and representation because of the legal aid funding available. For instance, many of those people who are incorrectly ‘assessed’ by ATOS receive representation from legal aid funded advisers in order to win their appeals. Without other funding in this sector, most would be unable to find an adviser to assist with the appeal – having an experienced adviser put together a case and write a submission vastly improves the odds of being successful at Tribunal. The people using this service, are either too unwell, or lack the knowledge or skills to be able to advocate for themselves.

But then the people who need this type of service appear to be those that the Torys appear determined to screw over – the poor, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the unemployed with unfair benefit sanctions, asylum seekers, immigrants.

This ‘I’m alright, Jack’ philosophy that the Torys have and promote assumes that everyone is created equal – equal in resources, education, intelligence, literacy, health, job opportunties etc. It ignores the fact that some people struggle even filling in a basic form – whether due to literacy, mental health, disability etc, and many others lack the education, knowledge or ability to be able to navigate complex matters such as welfare benefit appeals, immigration or housing law, and lack the resources to pay someone to help.

Without funding of these services, a large portion of the population is left without advice, advocacy or representation.

I can’t really comment on the actual subject of the OP, but the headline catches attention. A strong deja vu with “Five things you need to know about the Legal Aid Bill.” And indeed, this is a very common kind of headline in LC – to pick a few recent examples:

Four problems with ‘In the Black Labour’
Five things you need to know about the NHS bill
Ten ways to save money on FOI without changing the Act
Three ways in which inequality causes financial instability
Five public opinion trends to watch in 2012
Seven questions Labour could ask about Osborne’s new spending
Ten myths about private rented housing
Five reasons why Germany is also to blame for the Euro-crisis

And, to crown it all:

Three ways we could end the big six ‘Energy Fix’

Three AND six in the same headline. I could go on with more, but this suffices. The favourite number is clearly five. I started to think: where have I seen these number-based slogans before? And then it occurred to me: it was slogans from China, particularly the Cultural Revolution era but also modern:

Achieve the Four Modernisations
Three Represents Important Thought
Eliminating the Four Pests
Eight Honourables and Eight Shamefuls
Smash the Gang of Four
The Flour Clears and the Four Unclears
A hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend (and poor you if you believed this!)
One more baby means one more tomb
Maintain the One Center of the Two Musts Roadmap, Study the Three Represents, Emphasize the Three Feelings, Overcome the Three Big Challenges and Realize the Three Big Goals (a sign for the Tibet railway)

Is there some common textbook that you’re following? Now, I admit this has little relevance for this particular question about legal aid, but it’s just a bit funny.

10. Mr A James

Soon the lower classes will have nothing and nowhere to turn !

Next to no workers rights, force the unemployed to work for nothing, work until you drop/die, next to no pension, insufficient health care once they manage to break up and privatize the NHS, scraps of meat instead of benefit payments and to put the cream on the cake for this Tory Led Coalition of Evil : No recourse to justice.

The Tories are taking away everything and leaving the lower classes with nothing. They the (Tories) will take your dignity and will leave the masses without anything. There will be no safety net for anyone and society will become divided and fragmented. This is clearly a Class War in it’s making.

We will be left with nothing !

So much for Cameron’s vision of the BIG society, let the people take control, let the people have a voice/say and people power.

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12. Mr A James

Vivvy @ 11

You Naughty Little Drunken Nasty Tory !

Please keep your personal matters to yourself.

Whenever this comes up I wonder about how legal costs are so high, has Legal Aid led to price inflation? Has something else? I regularly find myself astonished at how much the law costs.

Clifford Singer

I am sorry but the revised version still does not come close to understanding the changes.

“changes to the rules on insurance mean that those who lose cases may be exposed to massive debt”

The Bill proposes the exact opposite. I really do hope that the changes provided for in this Bill are not clouded. The issues being dealt with are more complex that I think a lot of commentators realise. You do in fact have to have a comprehensive understanding of civil costs to accurately comment on the changes.

15. Man on Clapham Omnibus

One serious aspect to this Bill is the effect it will have on Domestic violence as well as Prohibited Steps Orders and Contact. Under the proposed legislation being beaten up by your husband or wife isnt grounds for getting means tested legal aid even if a Doctor says you’ve been beaten up.
Clarke’s view is that the Police will deal with situations like this. On current performance the Police do not generally intervene and usually advise the services of lawyers. Moreover they are not generally geared up to this work, a situation likely to deteriorate.
Abolishing PSOs will effectively mean children will be taken from the cohabiting/matrimonial property by ether party with no recourse to law.Again Clarke seems to envision the intervention of the Police although if both parties have parental responsibility then resolving these disputes ultimately have to involve Family Law Act/Children Act proceedings,or go unresolved. So anarchy will reign . The wife gets beaten up, the infant child gets taken , Dad goes on the run having never cared for a child in his life and then what? Well,if you are poor ,not a lot is the answer.
Finally with the abolition of representation over contact,this will pretty much seal the fate of a lot of expartners who will never ever see their kids again after a relationship breakdown.

Must seem all very reasonable to a man who was once both Deputy Chair of British American Tobacco and Health Secretary.


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