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Legal Aid: Four Days Left

April 13th, 2012 by

Justice Statue

Photograph by Rex Features/NXB

On Tuesday, MPs will vote on the government’s cuts to legal aid. Over the last few months, the House of Lords have made some vital changes to the plans. Their changes would protect children, domestic violence victims and people living with a disability from the worst of the legal aid cuts.

But there’s a real danger that all this good work could go to waste.MPs have a choice. They could back the Lords to stop the worst of the cuts. Or they could vote to stick with the government’s original plans.

We only have a few days left before the vote. The government will be trying to persuade MPs to reverse the Lords’ changes. Now, we need to work together to persuade MPs not to give in to the government’s pressure, and stand up for legal aid by voting for the House of Lords’ amendments.

Lots of people have spoken out against the government’s plans. Lords and Baronesses have been joined by influential Lib Dem MPs like Simon Hughes and Tom Brake, as well as experts from groups including Scope, Women’s Aid, and single parent charity Gingerbread.

Now we need to make sure MPs hear from their voters too. Together we can make it clear that we don’t want them to undo the House of Lords’ good work. If enough of us email our MPs, 38 Degrees members can convince them to go to the critical vote and back the House of Lords’ changes.

Fiona Weir from Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, believes 38 Degrees members are vital to getting the vote to go the right way: “We’ve got to make these changes stick when the Bill returns to the Commons. Action from 38 Degrees members can help to tip the balance between a bill that fails victims of domestic violence and their children or a bill that protects them”.

The government’s legal aid changes could mean that people living with a disability, children and victims of domestic violence will suffer most. That’s why senior lawyers warn that these changes will be “bad for children, bad for women and bad for families.”

It’s going to be close. But time and again, 38 Degrees members have taken action to stand up for what’s fair. We’ve challenged the government when they’ve turned a blind eye to tax dodgers. And we made it clear that we won’t put up with intrusive government plans to monitor our emails.

It takes 2 minutes to email your MP. Click here to get started.

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  • http://twitter.com/edyourself Fiona Nicholson

    I sent an email to my MP a couple of days ago based on the draft at MyLegal Forum.

    I put it up on my website if anyone wants to use it as basis for their own email

    http://edyourself.org/articles/mplegalaidwelfare.php

  • Zoho

    YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ THE BIBLE ,wel the good stuff is often taken out of it,but after aot of digging ! the bible says justice is for free ! so lawyers are clearly full of goo and lies ! making people pay for justice….THE GOV SHOULD STICK THAT IN THERE PIPEY’S..

  • http://twitter.com/fionajnicholson Fiona Nicholson

    I’ve written again to my MP saying why the Clarke counter-amendment is pointless. I put it online here http://edyourself.org/articles/mplegalaidwelfare.php

    16th April 2012 I’m writing to ask you to vote against Kenneth Clarke’s counter-amendment to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Billannounced just before the weekend which will be put to the vote tomorrow, April 17th.The Lords amendments should remain and should not be watered down.Clarke’s counter-amendment on Legal Aid for Upper Tribunal and Higher Court welfare benefit cases represents a severe limitation on the vital legal protection which was put forward by the Lords. The concession is virtually meaningless and will simply not benefit advice agencies such as Citizens Advice and Law Centres. The real need - as recognised by the Lords’ amendments following discussion with Justice For All - is for specialist advice at First Tier level.It is particularly important for benefit claimants to have access to specialist legal advice - which is charged at £150 flat fee to the Advice Centre - because of the huge changes to the benefit system already with the Work Capacity Assessment and Employment and Support Allowance, and also with the projected scrapping of Disability Living Allowance and its replacement by the Personal Independence Payment over the next few years.The Government rejected proposals for a proper trial of the new assessment criteria during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act, so access to specialist legal advice for benefits cases is now absolutely vital.Suspicion remains that the Government is fixed on removing legal aid for First Tier Tribunal, not because of the costs involved (because the cost is low and initial outlay is vastly outweighed by saving in subsequent spending for this vulnerable group) but because supported cases are three times more successful at Tribunal, and these results show up the errors in the system and are bad for Government PR.There was an article in the Guardian over the weekend http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/apr/15/lib-dems-pressure-legal-aid-bill?newsfeed=true on pressure which is being put on LibDems to go against the whip and safeguard legal protection for the most vulnerable. The article quoted from an Open Letter to the Prime Minister from a range of charities:”To cut legal aid at a time of unprecedented changes to welfare support would mean disabled people who fall foul of poor decision-making, red tape or administrative error being pushed even further into poverty as they struggle to manoeuvre the complicated legal system without the necessary expert support they need,” said Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope.The Guardian article goes on to say that “Tom Brake, co-chairman of the Lib Dems’ home affairs and justice committee, has signalled that some of his colleagues are preparing for a fight over the bill’s plans to reduce legal aid for claimants seeking reviews and appeals of their complex benefit cases. ”Bringing complex cases back within scope would benefit around 100,000 of the most vulnerable people and would cost a relatively small amount at £16.5m,” Brake said.”More technical details on the amendments can be found here http://mylegal.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=frontline&thread=646&page=1#1513Thank you again for your support.

  • Si victim

    Victims of DV are victimised already by the lack of understanding in Society without these cuts taking place

  • MM

    I completely agree

  • Tony Goldman

    As asked I emailed my MP, Chuka Umunna with the message you set. I have now had a reply which you might like to put on line

    Dear Mr Goldman,

    Thank you for contacting me about the Tory-led Government’s proposed cuts to legal aid.  I have read and listened carefully to all of the points that you and a number of my other constituents have raised regarding the LASPO Bill.  The articulate nature of all of the concerns brought to my attention have been particularly helpful in indentifying all of the precise reasons for why it would be wrong to support the government on this issue.  I have written to the Justice Secretary to enumerating the concerns raised with me.  After receiving a detailed response from the government I still feel that the concerns about the LASPO bill, and rest assured I will be voting accordingly.

    Firstly, I want to be clear that the Labour Party considers legal aid a fundamental component of our legal system. Ensuring that individual citizens were not excluded from the courts system due to lack of finance was deemed fundamental to ensuring the principles of equality before the law are upheld when it was created in 1949. But since legal aid was created, the world has changed considerably – for individuals, for the legal system and in terms of the financial pressures on the taxpayer.

    We believe that it in the current financial climate we must look for savings across the board and the legal aid budget is no exception.  However, we take exception to the coalition’s proposals that will slice crucial areas of support from civil legal aid – and as a result practically all debt advice, all welfare benefit law, all employment law and all education law will be cut. Plus, a large amount of crucial housing law will also bear the brunt. This contrasts with criminal legal aid, which will survive the cuts almost intact. We believe this is an unfair hit on social welfare legal aid.

    In economically difficult times, these cuts are a huge mistake. Without this early stage legal advice, the eventual cost to the taxpayer will be considerably greater. Slashing funding from the CAB network and Law Centres could result in many of them closing their doors for good, which would be a disaster for our local communities.

    Labour would have done things differently and indeed our proposals under the last government would have led to savings and efficiencies in the provision of criminal legal aid. We believe this would have provided sufficient funding to have resourced the social welfare elements of legal aid the coalition is now proposing to cut. The coalition bizarrely chose to not fully implement our proposals.

    We continue to press the government to reconsider its proposals, and colleagues are keeping up the pressure. As you may know, Labour – working with an alliance of cross-benchers and disgruntled Government peers – successfully defeated the Government in a number of key areas when the Bill was recently debated in the House of Lords. We will be looking to ensure that the Government does not seek to overturn these defeats when the Bill returns to the House of Commons on the 17th April 2012.

    I can see the strong efforts you have made for our case and I truly appreciate all of your support.  Yourstrong voice and perseverance will have gone a long way in making our cause heard.  But be rest assured that we will continue to oppose the government’s proposals on legal aid, and know that I will be voting against the LASPO Bill tomorrow.

     
    Yours sincerely

     
    Chuka Umunna MP
    Member of Parliament for Streatham
    covering Streatham and parts of Clapham, Balham, Tulse Hill and Brixton
    Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation &Skills