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Law Society identifies alternatives to legal aid cuts

Date:18 FEB 2011

Law SocietyIn its response to the Government's Green Paper on Legal Aid, the Law Society has identified savings that could be made across the justice system without harming access to justice as an alternative to damaging cuts.

The Law Society says much better ways to save money include making more efficient prosecutions and greater use of the Courts' existing powers, using funds seized from convicted criminals, and limiting any individual's income from legal aid to a similar level to what a top surgeon can earn from public funds. 

Making the financial sector pay for its own fraud cases could alone save £74 million, and a tighter application of the merits test for family cases could save £29 million, the Law Society claims. In total the it has identified potential savings of £394m in the justice system.

Law Society President Linda Lee said: "Simply cutting legal aid as the government plans will increase overall costs to the state as downstream costs arise when legal problems affecting ordinary people are unresolved.  We believe savings could instead be made across the justice system that would not harm legal aid and access to justice."

In October the chancellor announced in the government's spending review that the Ministry of Justice's budget will be cut by 23% from around £9.5 billion to £7 billion over four years. The Ministry of Justice subsequently announced that it expects to reduce its £2.1 billion legal aid budget by £350m.

The Law Society has also rejected Lord Justice Jackson's proposals on changes to civil costs because of the damage they will do to ordinary peoples' ability to exercise their legal rights.

Addressing the Jackson proposals, Linda Lee said: "These proposals will prevent ordinary people seeking redress from big business, insurance companies and government bodies when they have suffered harm at their hands.

"The current system of conditional fees has enabled the squeezed middle to access the courts.  These reforms will turn back the clock and the courts will once again be the preserve of the rich.  The conditional fee system guards against frivolous litigation, with solicitors acting as gatekeepers for meritorious cases."