THE House of Commons is today debating far-reaching proposals to abolish Legal Aid in areas like divorce and family cases involving children, employment, clinical negligence, debt and social welfare.
For any area such as ours where many people cannot afford representation without Legal Aid these proposals would be devastating. If allowed to go through, hundreds of thousands of people would be denied access to justice.
In some areas such as debt and welfare law the work is carried out by local charities. There is a real fear that without Legal Aid these charities would not be able to continue to meet the demand for advice and assistance, leading to yet further poverty and homelessness. These problems in turn could well cost the Government more in the long term so defeating the whole purpose of the proposals.
However I am confident that because these proposals are so foolish and misguided they will eventually be dropped so long as there is concerted opposition from firms, organisations and charities involved in providing Legal Aid services. It may be up to two years before these proposals ever come into force and therefore there is enough time to oppose them. It is important to spell out what would be the knock- on effects of these proposals. We are in danger of creating a two-class system where only those who can afford representation will have it. There is a real fear that some people who are unrepresented would take the law into their own hands.
If representation is denied in cases involving children then the people most likely to suffer are the children themselves.
The reality is that in all these areas of law there is no satisfactory alternative to Legal Aid as a means of providing representation.