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Labour reiterate support for legal aid

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Labour reiterate support for legal aid

Dear Justice for All members,

Our presence at party conferences continued this week in Liverpool, where Labour pledged their continued opposition to the legal aid cuts during a packed fringe

event organised by the Law Society and us. Shadow Ministers Andy Slaughter MP and Lord Bach both reiterated their belief in the importance of keeping social welfare law in the scope of legal aid, and said that were Labour in power they would not be cutting it. [Read a]break

Labour pledge continued opposition to legal aid cuts

In a packed early morning Labour Party fringe meeting on the legal aid bill, Shadow ministers Andy Slaughter and Willy Bach pledged their continued strong opposition to the cuts to legal aid, particularly social welfare law. They confirmed they would not be cutting this if they were still in power.
The meeting, organised by the Law Society and Justice for All, was chaired by Politics Home’s Paul Waugh, and was opened by Steve Hynes of the Legal Action Group and Justice for All. He stressed the need to ‘pick our battles’, singling out clinical negligence, the definition of domestic violence, social welfare law and the independence of the decision-making process as areas which should be fought hard. He suggested that the exceptional cases clauses of the bill – included as a ‘backstop’ to ensure issues covered by human rights legislation are not excluded – is a ‘conspiracy’ since the cuts will result in such scarcity of providers that legal help will be inaccessible to most people.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, deputy president of the Law Society, began by emphasising the principle of the rule of law, which she said these reforms put at risk, undermining the central tenet that no-one is above or outside the law, and that rights must be enforceable to be valid. She defended the role of lawyers in the system, saying litigation should always be a last resort but that consulting a lawyer can be a very good first step. And she picked up particularly on the effect these reforms would have on children, and on women who are victims of domestic violence, on those bringing cases under conditional fee arrangements (who would have to pay their legal costs out of the winnings under the reforms), and the dangers of making areas of advice such as community care only accessible via the phone.

Lord Bach, ex legal aid Minister who will lead Labour’s opposition to the bill in the Lords, promised to do his very best to mitigate the worst effects of the proposals, but warned against raised expectations. He called the proposals ‘practical and financial madness’, which will cost more and be leave people queuing at their MP’s surgery with nowhere else to turn. He defended labour’s record on maintaining legal aid for social welfare law, and expressed his disappointment with Liberal Democrats who he said ‘have a proud record of supporting legal aid, sometimes holding us – correctly – to account as we changed the system in government’ but are now voting through the bill.

Finally Andy Slaughter MP – the shadow legal aid Minister – said the proposals were ‘the most sustained attack on access to justice since legal aid began,’ and suggested government’s motivation was ideological as well as financial. He promised Labour’s continued opposition to the measures, particularly around the cuts to social welfare law, and in answer to a question promised that Labour would not be cutting social welfare law were they in power. He also drew particular attention to the proposed definition of domestic violence, citing a Liverpool law firm who estimate that only 5 of their current 278 clients who are victims of domestic violence would be eligible for legal aid under the new definition.

After hearing from the speakers a lively discussion followed which included questions on the link between welfare reform and cuts to welfare benefits legal aid, the importance of employment law, and a heated discussion between the Association of British Insurers and the panel on the proposed reforms to conditional fee arrangements. Justice for All will be holding another fringe meeting with the Law Society at next week’s Conservative Party Conference. It will be interesting to see who the Conservatives put-up to defend the reforms as the legal aid minister, Jonathan Djanogly, has dipped out of attending the fringe meeting.

Source: Justice for All



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