Legal Aid reforms will reduce access to justice

Liz Davies writes to the Independent on Sunday on the risks to justice of the proposed reforms to legal aid.

Lord Woolf and others are right to warn that Chris Grayling’s proposals on legal aid could lead to miscarriages of justice (“Reforms end ‘justice for all’, lawyers warn”, 28 April). The plans to introduce competitive tendering for criminal legal aid work will destroy community legal services, and herald a race to the bottom which will only favour large corporations that can absorb the losses and deliver criminal defence services at rock-bottom cost. There is a real risk that fixed fees will result in poor quality legal advice and representation, so that people may be convicted of crimes that they did not commit.

Chris Grayling plans to cut civil legal aid as well. Cuts to civil legal aid rates, coming on top of previous cuts in payment rates and removal of legal aid for advice on welfare benefits, employment law, consumer rights, most family disputes and immigration cases, raise the possibility that there will no longer be specialist legal aid lawyers.  Civil legal aid might be technically available, but anyone entitled to it will be hard pressed to find a lawyer offering it .

In 2009, the average salary for a legal aid lawyer was £25,000. If Grayling’s proposals go through, those who cannot afford to pay for lawyers will find themselves unable to protect their rights.

Liz Davies

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