Legal aid cuts given green light

Drastic cuts to legal aid have been given the go ahead by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke potentially leaving thousands without access to publicly funded legal advice.

The reform of the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, is in a bid to reduce the Government’s £2.1bn annual legal aid costs, and will affect private family law cases, clinical negligence and personal injury, employment, some debt, housing, immigration and some education cases.

But legal aid will continue to be available for cases involving threats to people’s life or liberty, risk of physical harm, immediate loss of their home or where their children may be taken into care.

Kenneth Clarke said in the Government Response paper: “The current legal aid system is unaffordable. It bears little resemblance to the one introduced in 1949, having expanded far beyond its original scope.”

“These legal aid changes constitute a substantial set of very bold reforms, the overall effect of which should be to achieve significant savings whilst protecting fundamental rights of access to justice,” he added.

The Jackson civil litigation reforms have also been confirmed, which include an overhaul of ‘no win, no fee’ conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) in a bid to reduce high payouts to lawyers and discourage a culture of litigation.

There will also be an increase of 10 per cent in non-pecuniary general damages such as pain, suffering and loss of amenity in tort cases for all claimants and a new test of proportionality in costs assessment.

Kenneth Clarke however failed to push through his 50 per cent sentencing reduction for early guilt pleas.