The Legal Services Commission has been accused of neglecting prospective lawyers from underprivileged backgrounds after it announced it is cutting the legal aid training contract grant scheme.
The decision is expected to save the government £2.6m per year and is part of a range of cuts due to be submitted to the Treasury today by the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke that will slash the £2.1bn legal aid budget by a quarter. In June the Ministry of Justice announced a review of the legal aid system and a consultation on proposals to reform the legal aid system is expected to be launched in the autumn.
In a statement the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group said: "The provision of these contracts went some way toward sustaining the flow of talented entrants into the legal aid sector, and making sure that legal aid work is not a closed door to applicants from poorer backgrounds.
"The withdrawal of these grants sends a very clear message that the LSC is not committed to quality or social mobility within the legal aid sector. This development will undermine the quality of advice and representation available to those who can not afford to pay for it, and will mean that legal aid lawyers become less and less representative of those who they work for".
Launched in 2002, the grants have helped over 750 trainee solicitors who were awarded up to £20,000 each.
The LSC confirmed they will continue to honour training contract grants which are already under way until their completion.