Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Changes to Legal Aid - August 2013

Towards the end of the parliamentary session, people wrote asking me to speak out against changes to Legal Aid.

I spoke of a 12-year-old boy, excluded from school.  He stopped going to the Pupil Referral Unit, because it was in a local gang’s area and he was scared.  For two years he received no education.

His mother’s repeated attempts to get him settled back in school were all thwarted.  Only when a date was set for Judicial Review did the Local Authority work out a package enabling the young lad to attend a local college.

The threat of Judicial Review, and a competent lawyer, sorted things out. The Government’s proposed changes would mean this case would not be funded, because it was settled before going to court.

The perverse effect of the changes are that the stronger your case, the less chance you have of getting Legal Aid.  So, if you can’t afford a good lawyer, you have little chance of getting justice.

The Government says they will save £1million and, even if we accept the Government’s dodgy sums, it is clear those “savings” guarantee costs elsewhere.

This young lad lost two years’ education.  His mother was threatened with court action, due to her son’s non-attendance.  Taking her to court would have cost tax-payers money:   to what end?  Fine Mum and, doubtless, the boy would still continue to truant.

The availability of Legal Aid gave this young lad his education back and now he’s doing well.  What of the cost to the tax-payer, if he had got no qualifications and was unable to get a job?  What price a life on the dole, or worse, a life inside due to petty criminal offences?

I know savings must be found across the justice system.  Those able to pay legal fees should.  I support using the frozen assets of criminals to fund their legal costs.  We should also address the problem of very high cost cases.

But these proposals are simply wrong.  It’s already too easy for the powerful to hide behind the high price of justice.  The Government’s proposals victimise society’s most vulnerable members, are unjust, unfair and wrong.

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