A group of peers including the former cabinet minister Lord Tebbit have started a campaign to maintain legal aid for medical negligence claims brought by children.
Under current Government plans, the legal aid budget is being cut in a wide range of areas, including debt, housing, welfare, medical negligence, employment and immigration.
The changes to the legal aid system, designed to save the Government around £350m a year when fully implemented, were placed on hold for six months in an unexpected move announced by justice secretary Ken Clarke.
Now Lord Tebbit, with the backing of former social security minister Lord Newton, is drafting an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, to save funding for medical negligence claims brought by minors. The Bill enters the committee stage in the House of Lords today.
Legal aid provides millions of people with limited access to finance with the opportunity to receive free legal advice and representation. Critics argue, however, that the legal aid bill is simply too high, and that lawyers who work under the scheme are inefficient.
The cuts are designed to streamline the service with efficiency savings, but some fear that they will simply mean fewer services are provided and claim that this will deny access to justice for the country's poorest people.
Speaking against the Bill, Desmond Hudson the chief executive of the Law Society said, "The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee raises similar concerns to those of the Lords Constitution Committee and many peers... The Bill as drafted threatens to undermine fair access to justice and is unlikely to realise the claimed savings to the public purse."
Defending the proposals Clarke said, "We remain committed to introducing competition to streamline and simplify the system... The reforms pose a threat to a failing system, and outdated work methods and practices, not to the needy."
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