The Government’s Legal Aid Bill is coming back to the House of Commons on 17 April after a historic battering in the House of Lords, where it has been defeated 11 times, making it the most controversial legislation of its type since at least 1979.
Under the guise of reforming Legal Aid, the Government plans to leave untouched the £1.2 billion criminal legal aid fund and instead put a stop to advice on common social welfare issues. This kind of advice, given by a mix of volunteers and legal experts, is delivered primarily through Citizens Advice Bureaux and neighbourhood law centres. They will see their funding cut by 53% and are warning of an impending crisis where vast areas of the country will not have any advice centres at all.
The total cost to the public purse of these amendments, covering the entire nation, is less than £25 million. Many groups all agree that this money ends up saving society and the taxpayer because if someone can’t get a minor problem dealt with, it can snowball, leading to home loss or health breakdown.
I hope that the Government will accept the decisions of the House of Lords and protect vulnerable groups so that they are able to get access to the right civil legal services in their time of need.