Charities and individuals concerned about proposed cuts to legal aid and independent advice are due to converge on Westminster today for the official launch of the Justice for all campaign.
A growing coalition of almost 1000 legal and advice agencies including Citizens Advice and the Law Centres Federation, other charities including Kids Company and Scope, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public have already signed up to the campaign.
Some of them will be at Westminster today lobbying their local MPs and urging them to oppose the cuts and sign an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to rethink the provision of legal services for the poorest in society.**
Half a million fewer people will be helped through legal aid funded advice on social welfare law and family problems, according to Ministry of Justice figures, as part of a package to reduce the legal aid budget by £350 million.
Legal aid for advice on welfare benefits and education law will be cut entirely. It will be restricted to housing and debt cases with an ‘immediate risk’ of homelessness and employment cases involving discrimination. Much of legal aid on family law will be limited to cases of domestic violence.
If the cuts go ahead it would mean that, for example:
- people would not be able to get help with debt problems until they are at crisis point;
- parents would no longer be able to get legal aid to secure the most suitable education for children with special educational needs;
- low-paid, vulnerable workers would have no free legal advice when contesting unfair dismissal;
- parents would be unable to get legal aid advice on contact with children, adoption or family maintenance;
- tenants seeking protection from harassment by their landlord would no longer get legal aid;
- and families who need to change their immigration status to stay together could split up because they would no longer be able to get advice funded by legal aid.
Speakers at a Parliamentary reception following the lobby of MPs are expected to include:
- Yvonne Fovargue MP, incoming chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on legal aid
- Sir Alan Beith MP, chair of the Justice Select Committee
MPs will also hear from people who were helped by legal aid to resolve urgent and serious problems – help that will no longer be available if the planned cuts to legal aid go ahead.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
“Community legal and advice services help the most vulnerable in all our communities get treated fairly. The right advice early on can save £10 for every £1 invested and keep families together in their homes, and in work and education.
“Access to justice is one of the cornerstones of a free and civilised society, but if the government’s planned cuts to legal aid go ahead, many of the most vulnerable members of our society will be overwhelmed by devastating problems because they have nowhere to turn for help.
“To achieve justice for all we need advisers to be free to advise on any problem, where and when they are needed. We also need adequate levels of government funding for legal aid, but spent on services not on wasteful systems. That’s why we are calling on everyone who cares about ensuring that people are treated fairly under the law - no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live – to join this campaign.”