The Ministry of Justice last week announced that plans to reform the way free legal representation is provided in England and Wales will be delayed by at least six months.
The changes which have been designed to reduce the legal aid budget by some £350m were roundly criticised by judges and lawyers as threatening access to justice for the most vulnerable in society. However, despite this delay it seems that cuts to legal-aid services are being announced across the country, as budget belts continue to be tightened.
The cuts will affect some areas more than others. Many envisage immigration legal advice being hit hardest. This area of law is already poorly funded, with firms relying on legal-aid money to balance the books. The majority of service provision in the sector is provided by not-for-profit organisations who will struggle to maintain service levels if legal-aid budgets are cut.
Although the announcement of the delay has been welcomed by many, the provision of services is already changing. Migrant Rights Network reported this week after conducting a rapid assessment of legal advice and support offered in London and concluded that whilst some central areas have maintained service provision, others in the West and South have already suffered dramatic cuts, making the supply of local legal advice for migrants very scarce and forcing some to travel miles to get simple legal advice and support.
In a written statement to the Commons, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke stated that subject to approval of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill the reforms to the legal-aid system were now to be implemented by April 2013. Under the plans, the Legal Services Commission which administers the legal-aid budget will be abolished and replaced by a new agency.
The remit for legal-aid provision is set to be removed for services relating to debt, welfare and social housing, medical negligence, employment law and immigration matters. If you have a case to bring but are worried about the costs of legal representation, then contact a local solicitor for advice.
Read more on the story (The Guardian)
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