Thursday, 3 December 2009

Don't back down Bach!

In a meeting yesterday, the legal aid minister Lord Bach told leaders from groups representing legal aid lawyers that there would be no new cash for civil legal aid. This is despite growing evidence of the increasing numbers of people who need help with civil law problems.

LAG is hearing from practitioners that they are being refused permission to start new cases once they have reached the limit set by the Legal Services Commission. According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) there have been 20,000 more cases between April and August 2009 than in the same period last year. With four or five months being the likely wait for permission to take on new cases, the fear is that many clients needing help with problems caused by the recession will be cut off from getting legal advice.

Lord Bach told the meeting that the Treasury would 'laugh' if he approached it for more cash to fund the extra work needed. While LAG appreciates the difficult financial position the government is in, we do not believe that the MoJ should cower away from making its case for more money. It is an unfortunate, but wholly predictable, effect of the recession that the demand for civil legal aid has increased.

Civil legal aid should be seen as part of the welfare state's safety net to help people in these difficult times. Like other state benefits the government should meet the cost of these extra cases as as essential part of its response to helping people through the recession. The relatively paltry sum in government terms of £10 million could buy an extra 30,000 or more cases and bring justice to victims of this bank-inspired recession.

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