The controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill enters its first day of Committee Stage today, which will see Committee members hear evidence from a range of interested parties.
The Bill proposes to cut funding to family legal aid services in all areas with the exception of orders or procedures for the care, supervision or protection of children. The proposal would implement the Green Paper on the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales published in November as well as Lord Justice Jackson's earlier review on Civil Litigation Costs
Ahead of this afternoon's evidence session, The Times has published a letter from fifteen respected family lawyers urging MPs to protect access to justice.
The letter, signed by the heads of several charities, professional associations, practitioners and academics, states that the Government's original proposals to remove legal aid from most family cases were opposed by 90 per cent of those consulted.
The letter signatories claim that the cuts are "not (apparently) just because of economic circumstances; the Government believes the changes to be desirable in themselves". The letter continues: "Hence the Bill makes no mention of the duty of the Justice Secretary to support access to justice, but provides a power to reduce the provision of legal aid still further, not to restore services that have been cut should finances improve."
Peter Lodder QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, will be appearing before the Public Bill Committee this afternoon. Speaking this morning he said: "Many provisions of the Bill go much too far. We are very concerned that children, vulnerable people and hardworking families will be denied access to justice, as whole areas of law are withdrawn from legal aid.
"While sentencing reforms have dominated the headlines, it is vital that the public understands that legal aid, the insurance policy which we all pay for through our taxes, is being arbitrarily removed from scope in many areas. The Government is settling for cut-price justice. If the proposed changes are implemented, we will all be worse off."