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The government’s proposed £350 million legal aid cuts will be a false economy, according to an report by the King’s College London.
The report, Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms, (commissioned by the Law Society’s Sound off for Justice campaign) reckons that the cuts proposed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill will give rise to ‘unbudgeted costs of at least £139 million’.
It is a point that has been made repeatedly by campaigners trying to prevent the Coalition government cutting the legal aid scheme by and scrapping publicly funding advice for social welfare law, family (except where there is evidence of domestic violence) – see HERE and HERE. It was the main finding of Unequal before the law? the future of legal aid, published as part of the Justice Gap series – see HERE.
Citizens Advice in a July 2010 report (Towards a business case for legal aid) reckoned that the Bill’s proposed cut of £60m from social welfare legal aid could cause the withdrawal of advice services that save the state £338.65m in spending on other services.
The KCL report estimates the costs could exceed £139 million –wiping out almost 60% of the claimed savings.
‘This research undermines the Government’s economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on their claims of realising savings to the public purse,’ commented report author Dr Graham Cookson. ‘Without a trial, it is impossible to say for certain what the impact of the proposals will be, just as it is impossible for the Government to assert that there will be a net saving of £270 million per annum.’
Pic: Alice Mutasa. Welfare rights lawyers outside Westminster last month prior to Lords Committee Stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.