Categorized | Law Updates, Legal Aid

Legal aid cuts to save less than predicted

Legal aid cuts to save less than predicted

As the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill returns to the House of Lords at committee stage, an independent report from a leading university reveals how the legal aid changes will incur new costs for the taxpayer by simply shifting the burden onto other parts of the public purse.

The King’s College London report ‘Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms’ was commissioned by the Law Society because of the Ministry of Justice’s reluctance to publish estimates of the knock-on costs of its proposed changes to legal aid policy. Published on Monday, the report shows that the government will produce less than half of the predicted savings through the proposed reforms to legal aid. In his report Dr Graham Cookson, from the Department of Management, analyses the intended changes to family, social welfare and clinical negligence law, which together are expected to produce savings of £240 million. He identified knock-on costs of £139 million per annum, and these unintended costs will largely be borne by other government departments, including a predicted £28 million being shouldered by the NHS each year. This means that the Government will only realise approximately 42 per cent of the predicted savings.

Dr Cookson said: “This research undermines the Government’s economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on its claims of realising savings to the public purse.” He concluded: “I echo the Justice Select Committee’s call for the Government to estimate the knock-on costs of these reforms before legislation is passed.”

Desmond Hudson, CEO of the Law Society, said: “The Ministry of Justice has defended swingeing cuts to Legal Aid in civil cases, which will deny justice to thousands, on its need to contribute savings to the Government’s deficit reduction programme. The Law Society accepts the need to achieve savings, but this report confirms that much of the Ministry of Justice’s claimed savings are being achieved at the expense of other parts of Government. This is kamikaze accounting and will do little to tackle the deficit while sacrificing access to justice. Should we be promoting our justice system internationally while denying access to ordinary citizens?”

At the same time, the London Advice Watch report was published. Sponsored by the Legal Action Group, it is based on an opinion poll of 1,600 Londoners who gave their views on advice services such as Citizens Advice Bureaux. It argues that London is unique in the diversity, range and numbers of law firms and advice centres which provide advice on civil legal problems. The city will be the largest loser in the country as London spends around a fifth of the budget for help with common civil legal problems. A cut of just under £10m in civil legal aid for London would see nearly 52,000 Londoners lose out on advice for problems with housing, welfare benefits, debt and employment law. It claims that the planned cuts will have a devastating impact on the specialist advice services which are an important part of the fabric of local communities in the city.

Commenting on the reports, Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: “Legal advice is vital for disabled people if they fall foul of poor decision-making, red tape or administrative error, and this makes it crucial to the success of the government’s welfare reforms. For welfare reform to work disabled people have to get support to appeal decisions relating to their benefits, especially within a system where errors are commonplace. Cutting legal aid for welfare cases at a time when the Government is radically reforming the welfare system will leave disabled people at the mercy of a labyrinth of bureaucracy, and push many further towards poverty.”

The full text of the report ‘Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms’ can be found at:
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/content/1/c6/08/81/08/UnintendedConsequencesFinalReport.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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