Some covergage of the East Ham event, where 1,000 signatures were obtained on a petition against these cuts...
Justice for All day of action 03 Jun 2011
We took part in the Justice for All Day of Action this Friday, campaigning against government's proposed cuts to legal aid. Local MP Stephen Timms joined the campaign stall on East Ham High Street, where he was presented with a petition of almost 1000 signatures calling for legal aid for social welfare law to be retained.
Find out more about our legal aid campaign on our National Work pages.
The legal aid cuts mean 'women leaving violent relationships will no longer be able to obtain help'. Photograph: Garry Weaser In East Ham, they formed an orderly queue. In Gloucester, protesters gagged their mouths. Outside the Supreme Court of Justice in Westminster, the Women's Institute stood in silence.
A day of action organised by the Justice for All campaign against government plans to carve £350m out of the annual legal aid budget and control access to the courts is being staged across the country.
Details of the Ministry of Justice's final proposals and a draft bill on the cost-saving reforms are due to published this month, possibly as early as next week.
The MoJ's own impact assessment study suggest that 500,000 fewer cases a year will be entitled to funding under the plans, while the Legal Action Group estimates that as many as 650,000 will removed from access to legal aid.
Opponents of the bill claim the most vulnerable will be targeted. Women will no longer be able to obtain legal help for many of the issues associated with leaving a violent relationship, according to the National Federation of Women's Institutes.
Ruth Bond, chair of the organisation, said: "The proposals on reforming legal aid risk fundamentally undermining the justice system. We are particularly concerned about the impact on women who have experienced domestic violence."
One of the more controversial Ministry of Justice proposals is for legal aid to be available in family cases only where there are allegations of physical violence. Many fear this will create a perverse incentive for false claims, making divorces even more embittered.
Other groups who taped their mouths shut outside the supreme court to symbolise their exclusion from justice included the Fawcett Society, Refuge, Women's Resource Centre, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Women's Aid England and Rights of Women.
The Justice for All campaign is an alliance of over 3,000 organisations and members. Gayle Emerson, of the Citizens Advice Bureau, said: "The response to the government's consultation has been overwhelming. People are concerned about the cuts. This is so damaging. It will make it more difficult for women to leave violent partners."
Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green party, said: "Reducing legal aid will increase the hardship of many as well as proving to be a false economy
"If people do not get the help they need at an early stage, their problems will worsen. Their problems become more difficult to solve, and that increases demand on other public services, such as health and social care. The worst-off will be hit hardest by these changes. "
The Labour MP Stephen Timms organised what he described as a "very British protest" against the cuts: an orderly queue symbolising how "legal aid cuts will leave vulnerable people with nowhere to turn for help but their MP".
In Gloucester, Birmingham and other cities there were silent, gagged marches by protesters. "Thousands of desperate people across Coventry would be silenced by these cuts," said Sue Bent from Coventry Law Centre. "Over 8,000 vulnerable people come to us every year to get fair treatment at work, safe shelter, manage their debts and support their families while they seek work. Where will they go now?"
Steve Woodcock from St Paul's Advice Centre in Bristol, said: "The proposals will reduce access to justice for many individuals and families who are more likely to face injustice due to discrimination and poverty. This government seems determined to increase the gap between those that have and those that don't."
John Cooper QC said: "I've seen how vital legal aid is to assist the most vulnerable. Though it's there to protect people who find themselves in criminal courts, it's equally important to safeguard those who find themselves fighting for the welfare of children or disabled people. It truly is the national health service of the legal system."
The Ministry of Justice has defended its plans on the grounds of necessary savings. "At more than £2bn a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world," a spokesman said.
"The current system encourages lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings, at tax payers' expense, which do not always ensure the best result for those involved.
"We need to make clear choices to ensure that legal aid will continue to be available in those cases that really require it, the protection of the most vulnerable in society, and the efficient performance of the justice system.
"Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution – which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts."
Brighton charities call legal aid cuts ‘false economy’ A coalition of local charities is today asking the Government to rethink changes to legal aid which they say will affect four thousand Brighton & Hove residents.
Under Government proposals people on low incomes will no longer receive free help with legal problems until they reach crisis point. Charities like Mind, Brighton Housing Trust, Age Concern and Citizens Advice Bureau say this is short-sighted. Complicated legal problems escalate without early intervention; incurring court fees and tribunal costs plus health and social consequences at great expense to the public purse.
The Justice for All campaign, which is led locally by Brighton & Hove Advice, has released an online video and petition to coincide with a national day of action on Friday June 3rd 2011. The short film features three Brighton & Hove residents who overcame difficult and distressing problems through free legal aid which the Government plans to eliminate. A petition, which will be sent to local MPs as well as councillors, asks politicians to protect early stage advice for those in greatest need. Visit www.justiceforall-brightonandhove.co.uk to learn more.
Andy Winter of Brighton Housing Trust said:
“We believe cutting early stage legal advice will prove to be a false economy. Without this safeguard problems often spiral. Despite good intentions the proposed cuts will do nothing to fight compensation culture; instead they will simply remove essential help for ordinary people facing dreadful problems. Fair and equal access to legal advice and representation is a hallmark of a civilised society. People can voice their concerns by writing to their MP and signing the Justice for All petition.”
The Brighton & Hove Justice for All campaign is part of a national movement which is supported locally by:
Age Concern, BHT (Brighton Housing Trust), Citizens Advice Bureau, Community & Voluntary Sector Forum, Fitzhugh Gates Solicitors, MACS (Money Advice and Community Support), Mind, Rise Women’s Refuge, The Bridge Community Education Centre, Whitehawk Inn
Watch the video and sign the petition at justiceforall-brightonandhove.co.uk.
BPP Law Aware magazine on what Islington Law Centre has done for the day of action
"Islington Law Centre is pivotal in leading a campaign against legal aid cuts with Jeremy Corbyn
Posted on June 3, 2011 by legalawarenesssoc
Islington Law Centre, Islington People’s Rights and Islington CAB, organised a “Justice for All” open morning at the Islington Law Centre on Friday 3rd June 2011. Students from the BPP Law School were strongly represented at the meeting, particularly the BPP Pro Bono Unit. Jeremy Corbyn, MP for North Islington, whose appointment to the Commons Select Committee has been widely praised is pictured here (on the left), with Shibley Rahman from the BPP Legal Awareness Society, based at the BPP Business School (middle).
At worst, the reforms represent the end of legal aid for social welfare law. The Law Centre is paid for by legal aid, and grants locally. However, in large city areas such as Birmingham and Glasgow, there will be many people who will not have access to legal aid.
Jeremy Corbyn MP (furthest right) and Cllr Catherine West (middle), the Leader of Islington Council, werel invited, and attended as, the main speakers at this event by Ruth Hayes, Director of Islington Law Centre (furthest left). The meeting was to concern the deep concern that the Government’s proposals for legal aid will deny hundreds of thousands of people access to justice. This event was a chance to find out more about current advice provision in Islington, understand what the Government’s proposals would mean for low income Islington residents, and add your voice to the campaign. The event targeted primarily at an audience of staff, volunteers and members in community organisations and other front line agencies, whose own service users may rely on legal aid to find out about and exercise their legal rights. Cllr West provided that councillors have a vital role in explaining access to legal services, which can feed into making legal policy in the Council. Catherine emphasized that this reinforces a community culture.
Jeremy has been a strong advocate of putting the case for Parliament. It is very important to change the debate from a pressure by the legal profession, into pressure by people who are worried about access to justice. We are currently in the midst of the Consultation on legal aid, and Jeremy is involved now in the Select Committee for Justice. He said a big thank you to Islington Council for opening the Islington Law Centre in Upper Street. There is no competition in provision of legal aids, but there is a desperate need for support and advice. All of the stakeholders appear to be co-ordinating legal information effectively.
In his short thesis, he wished to expose a few myths. The national budget for legal aid is about £2bn, which is not much compared to a nuclear missile. The Government is trying to cut £350mn from there, which is a substantial cut. They happily claim that barristers and solicitors are paid a huge amount on legal aid, because of the “greed of the legal profession”. Some barristers do command high fees in the High Court, and there is a very small number of high profile cases. However, legal aid does support a lot of law centres nationally; and many law centres have ceased to function. Claimants are now lost in the system, because a number of law companies have disappeared. There is a lot of work being done on minimal money.
According to Jeremy, the Government also argues that more can be done through mediation. Jeremy believes that this is difficult – for example, in a contentious immigration case, legal aid can be applied for in relation to detention aspects. Jeremy believes that this is dealing with the symptoms, not the issue. Every case of disability living allowance is being analysed in an aggressive way; about two-thirds, however, are successful on appeal. This does not appear like a sensible use of public money, as the process is very traumatic. Finally, the Government also puts great store on mediation of ‘solved problems’; however, mediation does not often work, and is a “pipe dream”. You need good quality legal representation in certain cases of family aid. Legal aid provides the basis of doing that. That is why Jeremy is angry about the criticisms on the basis of cost. Legal aid can be considered as the ‘fourth pillar’ of the welfare state, and has to be paid for. Access to justice should be available to all, not just those who can afford it. The Government has had to delay the closing date on the consultation, because of the sheer volume of consultation reports. Jeremy will be arguing as central to the Commons Justice Select Committee that access to justice is very important, not just large corporations.
There is a petition, to be closed before next week. Jeremy advised the submission of the large numbers of petitions early next week, perhaps with a hand-in to the Ministry of Justice within ten days.
The Islington Law Centre will be celebrating its 40 years’ anniversary shortly, and offers a full range of legal services in ‘social law’, including education law, employment law, housing, law, immigration and asylum law, and welfare benefits law . The Law Centre offers a range of provisions, including initial advice, appeals and representations in higher courts. It has an open-door policy, and does not charge clients for its services. Three days a week the clinics are staffed by City law firms. The City law firms have urged the need for such volunteering activity to continue. The BPP Law School pro bono has been heavily involved in such work. A range of services could be threatened, however. The future could mean that there could be no welfare benefits service at all, and without legal aid there will not be opportunities for claimants. Similarly, the volume of debt cases is massive, and there will not be legal aid work available unless a claimant’s home is at risk; this will create huge strains for people. Employment law means that claimants often do not have access to large trade unions, often in small businesses with complex conditions. In education law services, some families report that the young people were so distressed, that they were actually suicidal. Such law work was held on Saturday, as a result of people who were now working, because they had re-integrated into society. The scope for housing law is limited, meaning that a lot of agencies will not survive. Immigration is a real concern in Islington, including the loss of representation by some firms such as Fisher Meredith. Asylum cases will still be in scope.
There will be a ‘telephone gateway’ to access to legal aid, problematic for people with insufficient credit, or have communication difficulties as a result of disability. It is the intention that about 75% legal aid cases will be dealt with by phone, taking away the genuine community component of legal aid. A lot of cases are multi-factorial, e.g. housing, debt and immigration, making such telephone consultations sub-optimal. A national phone service makes no use of local knowledge, diluting the effect of local specialist knowledge which can offer detailed, excellent, practical local support. A telephone service, in summary, is therefore iniquitous. It turns out the Equality and Human Rights Commission are seeking to implement a telephone advice, which is impossible for complex cases, particularly for claimants with communication difficulties. Jeremy represented the situation as a recipe for disaster, and needs to be properly supported as appropriate, for example with translation services.
“Islington’s People’s Rights” does offer an outreach service. The majority of welfare benefits work involves outreach, in mental health, disability, addiction, and other vulnerabilities. The changes proposed in legal aid will have a huge impact. A lot of claimants are going through an assessment, often at first stage, but increasingly at second stage, following appeal (despite failing at assessment despite a strong case). The impact of legal aid ceasing for welfare benefits and debt will have a devastating effect on that client group, and cannot be underestimated. If you are losing your home under 30, you might escape this lack of scope. Certainly, people are not optimistic about the effect of the reforms on the work with vulnerable members of the community. The need for services continues to get greater,
Lorna Reid, Welfare Benefits Advisor in the Islington Law Centre, drew special attention to the phrase, “undeserving poor” against, say, people with serious vulnerabilities such as medical addiction problems. Islington Law Centre currently has a success rate in turning over 80% of cases on appeal, and there is an increase in jobseekers’ allowance. A vast number of families are being pushed below the poverty line, people who cannot keep up with their debts, and their health suffers. The Council has run a successful form-filling clinic; 78 of 182 people had their claims were followed-up, and satisfied on the first claim (each claim takes about three hours). Without that additional help, there is no ‘form filling’ clinic. The demonisation of the poor in terms of language used by Iain Duncan Smith, e.g “lifestyle choice” is considered by Jeremy as ‘deeply offensive, rubbish and nonsense’; poorer people, who are trying to do their best in life, should be allowed to be demonised.
The author would like Jennifer Ball, from the Law Centres Federation, who has been pivotal in inspiring him about the importance of pro bono publico."
Solcitors Journal covers day of action on legal aid cuts
"Legal aid protests as government prepares to unveil bill 3 June 2011
There were protests across the country today during the 'Justice for All' day of action, as the government prepared to unveil a legal aid bill containing what many expect to be drastic cuts.
Jane Backhurst, spokeswoman for Justice for All, said over 200 people protested outside the Supreme Court on Friday lunchtime, including the 'Sound Off for Justice' gospel choir and members of the Women’s Institute.
Backhurst said the involvement of the WI would help “bring the campaign home”.
She went on: “People are starting to realise that justice is for everybody. I think this will help remind the government that we are an ever-growing coalition.
“This is just the beginning. We need to explain over and over again why legal aid is so vital for people across the UK.”
Andy Slaughter, shadow justice minister, spoke to the crowd outside the Supreme Court, along with Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, Margy Butler from the Mary Ward legal centre and Shani Fancett, area director of Citizens Advice.
Other day of action events included silent gagged marches in Birmingham and Gloucester, a seafront march in Hastings, petition signing in Sheffield, Tunbridge Wells and Newcastle, and a procession in Coventry led by a Lady Godiva.
Related articlesJustice for All warns MPs on impact of legal aid cuts as judges speak out Changes to legal aid green paper being considered, Djanogly admits Committee 'pulls its punches' on legal aid MoJ failed to disclose 'true reasons' for legal aid cut "
I was part of the team taking part in the Justice for All 'Day of Action' on June 3rd in Totnes Devon. I was impressed and heartened by the passion that came out of the meeting. All the agencies involved were very concerned about the affect of withdrawing legal aid would have on the community we live in. We work closely with other voluntary agencies and solicitors alike. Without specialist debt and welfare benefit units like the South Hams Citizens Advice Legal Services, people will not be made aware of their rights and would not receive the help that should be available for all. VivO
Chesterfield Day of Action today 10.6.10 « Thread Started Today at 6:26am » -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- article on steps by Chesterfield Law Centre and CABs to oppose legal aid cuts with day of action today 10 June 2011.
"Legal Cuts Protest In Chesterfield
Thursday 9th June 2011
It's feared that plans by the Coalition Government to cut legal aid entitlement will hit over 2,410 people in Chesterfield who campaigners say will lose their right to Legal Advice.
Chesterfield Law Centre are leading a campaign in conjunction with Chesterfield Citizens Advice Bureau and Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre along with Chesterfield based private practice firms to protest against Government proposals to withdraw legal aid from individuals and families on low incomes living in North East Derbyshire.
The Green Paper proposes that legal advice for social welfare law - housing, welfare benefits, debt, employment, immigration, education, clinical negligence and family breakdown - should generally no longer be provided under legal aid. If it is, the kinds of cases allowed will be severely restricted. Criminal legal aid will be virtually untouched.
Local family solicitors in private practice are very concerned at the proposed cuts to legal aid and say it will no longer be available for divorce and financial matters, cohabitee property disputes, inheritance claims, applications by a parent for contact with children nor for child abduction cases by a parent.
Charities such as The Law Centre, Citizens Advice and Shelter provide approximately 75% of all social welfare law advice under legal aid contracts. This advice will no longer be provided. Campaigners say that people who need help in these areas are amongst the most vulnerable in society and often require advice on interrelated areas and so benefit from advice that is accessible easily.
They cite a case recently at the Law Centre. Josie (not her real name) suffered problems with her landlord and sought advice. Josie lives on her own with her son living nearby to care for her - she is disabled with limited physical and mobility skills and unable to work due to being in and out hospital.
When she moved out of her private rented home, her landlord refused to return her deposit of over £500. The Landlord accused her of damaging the property. Josie did not damage the property, and the landlord had failed to protect the deposit, as required by law. This was a lot of money to Josie as she is on benefits and she needed this for the deposit on another property. Josie had no option but to borrow £500.00 from her son to pay for the new deposit and believed that her only option was to sue her former Landlord through the courts.
After intervention from the Law Centre's specialist housing adviser, the Landlord agreed to repay the money he owed Josie. Much to Josie's relief she was able to repay her son. The cost of providing this advice to Josie was £174 in legal aid - The Government plans to withdraw legal aid for this type of work.
Tony McIlveen, Senior Solicitor at Chesterfield Law Centre, said "This is bad news for those who have lost their jobs, having problems in making claims for benefits and have multiple debts - all needing free legal advice. This will have a severe impact on people on low incomes living in North Eastern Derbyshire as they would not be able to get free legal advice to enforce their rights in for example, recovering wages owed to them, challenging decisions on benefits entitlement, managing multiple debts and getting repairs carried out in their rented homes."
Experts say that the Green Paper assumes that if legal aid is withdrawn people will be able to get help elsewhere, such as from the National Debtline. They say however, that this organisation does not provide face-to face advice and actually refers clients to advice services funded by legal aid.
It's a double whammy for advice centres who also receive funding from their local authorities. This is already under threat and can certainly not fill the gap left by withdrawing legal aid.
Statistics show that legal aid for welfare benefits advice cost £28.3 million in 2009/10 - which is less than 0.18 per cent of the £16 billion of benefits that went unclaimed.
Research by Citizens Advice shows that for every pound spent on legal aid, the state potentially saves more than twice as much. Without legal advice at an early stage problems are likely to escalate they say and result in heavy expenditure on a range of public services.
Removing legal advice will also have an effect on the system itself as people represent themselves and mean that cases will take longer, be more expensive and cause backlogs in the justice system.
The Green Paper also proposes that people needing legal advice will no longer be able to visit or telephone their local advice service. They will have to be vetted by a national telephone helpline first. Experts fear that, while there is an important role for telephone advice, making it the first point of contact for everyone will restrict access for people with language difficulties, mental health problems or with very complex cases.
The Ministry of Justice has received over 5,000 responses to the Green Paper from an incredibly diverse range of organisations; national advice networks, professional bodies, national and local charities, judges, lawyers, specialist advisers to MPs, disability groups, human rights organisations and consumer groups to name a few.
Not one of them supports the proposals to reduce legal aid for social welfare law.
They argue that the proposals are lacking in evidence, misunderstand the extent and range of legal advice needs, underestimate the potential impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, and risk inflicting collateral damage on the legal advice sector (especially charities) and the justice system.
Furthermore, they say, the Green Paper does nothing to address the poor decisions and inefficiencies which cause the need for advice in the first place.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Chesterfield Law Centre, Chesterfield Citizens Advice Bureau and Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre are members of the Justice for All alliance which believes that everyone should be treated fairly under the law, no matter who you are, how much money you have or where you live.
They are asking anyone who wants to protest against the proposals to :
•Visit the stall at New Market Square on Friday 10th june 2011, 9am - 1pm during their 'Day Of Action' to sign their petition.
•Call in or telephone Chesterfield Law Centre, Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre or your nearest CAB to sign the petition during their opening times.
Or, if you want to know more about the Green Paper, please contact Teresa Waldron on 01246 550674.
What does Chesterfield Law Centre do?
Chesterfield Law Centre, set up in 1989, is a registered charity and a not-for-profit legal practice. It has a team of solicitors and advisers, supported by support staff and volunteers to provide free high quality specialist advice and representation in the areas of housing, employment, debt, discrimination and tackling hate and harassment to residents in North Derbyshire.
The organisation is currently funded by Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, North East Derbyshire District Council, Legal Services Commission, with project funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Big Lottery Fund.
What does Chesterfield Citizens Advice Bureau do?
The Chesterfield Citizens Advice Bureau, set up in 1987, is a registered charity and a not-for-profit legal practice. It has a team of advisers, supported by support staff and volunteers to provide free generalist advice and specialist advice in welfare benefits and debt to residents in Chesterfield Borough.
The organization is currently funded by Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Legal Services Commission and various project funding. "
Superheroes in Wiltshire fight legal aid cuts « Thread Started Today at 5:55pm » --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"This Is Wiltshire »News »
Protest at Trowbridge over legal aid plan 4:00pm Friday 10th June 2011
By Mike Wilkinson » Campaigners dressed up as superheroes in a bid to raise awareness of Government plans to cut free legal aid.
Representatives from Wiltshire Citizens Advice, solicitors and the GMB union brought their campaign against the cuts to Trowbridge County Court on Friday when they dressed up as fictional characters.
Leading the campaigners was Sarah Cardy, chief executive of Wiltshire Citizens Advice, dressed as Lady Justice, the figure seen on the building of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Mrs Cardy said: “This is a potentially very serious issue which could affect a lot of people in Wiltshire and we wanted to bring it to their attention.
“People who seek debt, benefits, or housing advice will often find they need help through legal advice on how to appeal decisions that may have been made about their case and they may not be able to do this any more under these new plans. That could mean them having to fork out their own solicitor costs which could prove impossible for many.
“It is a complex area but one we are very concerned about. We have a lot of skilled people at Citizens Advice who provide a lot of crucial advice to Wiltshire people and it is very difficult to see what could replace that if these cuts are made.”
The campaigners are part of a nationwide coalition of concerned organisations, such as Citizens Advice, solicitors and law centres, who have formed a special group called Justice For All. The group encouraged members up and down the country to dress up to get their point across.
In Trowbridge, other characters among the 15 protestors included Captain Debtbuster, Welfare Wonderwoman, and Housing Hero.
They are arguing that rather than cutting the remit of the £2bn legal aid bill it is better to target the £120m administrative costs associated with providing such aid.
A decision by the Government’s justice secretary Kenneth Clarke is expected in the coming weeks.
The fight for legal aid-Sadiq Khan « Thread Started Yesterday at 12:35pm » -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Article in June's edition of Legal Action from Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice on the legal aid cuts and what Labour would have done. Interesting because it shows how Clarke and Djanogly could have taken a different route instead of specifically deciding to destroy social welfare law
"The fight for legal aid June 2011
Sadiq Khan MP, the Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, who will be one of the speakers at LAG’s social welfare law conference ‘'Facing the Future' on 4 July, writes:
Legal aid is a central plank of our welfare state and I am proud of Labour’s role in creating the system in this country. Clement Attlee’s radical post-war government grasped that the state would need to contribute financially if a fundamental principle of our legal system – that equality before the law is upheld – is not restricted by an individual’s financial means.
But legal aid is under threat. Along with changes to the no-win, no-fee regime, we are seeing a sustained assault on access to justice. And, as a result, Legal Action Group, as part of the Justice for All coalition, the Law Society’s Sound Off For Justice campaign, MPs of all parties and a whole array of other concerned organisations and charities are fighting to protect access to justice. Since the 1940s, the needs of individuals and the legal system have changed enormously, and the taxpayer is under more pressure than ever before. However, one constant is that many still face our legal system without the necessary supporting funds, which acts as a serious barrier to protecting an individual’s rights.
This coalition government is cutting £350 million from legal aid. I have gone on record to say that I agree that the government needs to make savings from the £2.1 billion legal aid budget. However, I disagree with the way this government is going about making these cuts, which is leading to some half a million people no longer being eligible for legal aid. Social welfare law will take a particular battering, taking welfare benefit issues, employment law and education law totally out of scope, yet other non-civil areas remain largely untouched. Early intervention in our legal system ultimately saves money for the taxpayer. Research by Citizens Advice has demonstrated the scale of these long-term savings: £1 spent on legal aid on housing issues saves the state £2.34, on debt the saving is £2.98, on benefits the saving is £8.80 and on employment advice the state saves £7.13. The justice minister has dismissed the Citizens Advice figures, yet has singularly failed to offer up any reasons behind his repudiation. Nor has his department offered any alternative analysis of the impact of early intervention. I am shocked that this is the case, particularly as these proposed cuts will affect some of those least able to articulate their concerns.
So, government claims of savings as a result of these cuts are both short-sighted and short-termist. It is precisely these kinds of early-intervention legal aid that the cuts will devastate. Over two-thirds of initial help and advice on legal problems – practically all debt advice and a chunk of housing law – is to be cut. Those most in need will be overwhelmed without this crucial early support. Our precious Law Centres® and Citizens Advice Bureaux face calamity with cuts of £50 million from their already stretched budgets. They will also be swamped with additional inquiries from those whom the cuts will take out of eligibility at a time when the economic conditions will result in higher demand for debt and housing advice. It is touch and go whether Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux will maintain their services in the face of these cuts.
In government, while capping the overall budget for legal aid, we always strived to protect social welfare because we knew that it disproportionately supports those most in need in society. In fact, our March 2010 proposals – fully implemented – would have led to ten per cent efficiency savings from improving the way legal services are contracted from solicitors. Bizarrely, the coalition government has rejected this option, which would have generated sufficient savings to fund social welfare legal aid, particularly as this could lead to even greater savings than those proposed by the government.
We are not alone in our opposition in parliament. The cross-party Justice Select Committee stated its surprise at the government’s lack of analysis on the impact on other public spending from these cuts. The committee also emphasised the widely held view that there would be an increase in litigants in person, running the risk of increased costs to the system. Claims by the government that it is committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society were questioned by the committee; the Ministry of Justice’s own impact assessment shows that those with disabilities, and ethnic minorities, would be most hit by the cuts.
The legal aid budget must be contained, but this must be married to a focus on providing support in those areas which ensure that the most vulnerable are not excluded from the legal system. We had started making savings, but we disagree fundamentally with the route chosen by this Tory-led government. Decimating social welfare legal advice risks crippling a system that was created to change lives for the better.
The government has received around 5,000 consultation responses, and we await its formal response. Recently, we have seen government rethinking policy because of the pressure of public opinion. So, it is important that Legal Action readers, who are at the forefront of this debate, fight to protect social welfare legal aid.
"Justicelegal aidUK NewsPressure continues over 'devastating' proposed legal aid cuts
By staff writers 7 Jun 2011
Civil rights, legal and community groups are continuing to press the government hard on its plans to cut legal aid and effectively deny justice to thousands of poor and vulnerable people.
Homeless, jobless and disabled people (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14675) are among those due to be hit hardest.
'Justice for All' (http://www.justice-for-all.org.uk/) campaigners from across the country took action on Friday 3 June, the Day of Action for free legal advice in England and Wales.
Activists took the streets in silent marches in Gloucester and Birmingham, Lady Godiva leading the way with Coventry politicians, seafront marches in Hastings and Eastbourne and rallies in London and Sheffield. Lady Justice grabbed the press' attention in Bristol, Havant and Trowbridge.
Thousands more signed petitions on the high-streets in Abergavenny, Harlow, Tunbridge Wells, Nuneaton and Newcastle, and a Wales-wide petition was launched.
In Newham they formed an orderly queue to see the MP, the only place many will have to turn if free advice agencies close.
In Pontyprydd, Totnes and Islington, open sessions and discussion were held to find out more about the valuable service advice agencies provide. Advice agencies in Brighton and Hove showed how vital advice is for people through a short video clip.
Many more individuals wrote to or met with their MP, wrote to their local newspapers and raised awareness on social media.
"Whatever the action, all were inspired by deeply held concerns about the impact on their community of legal aid cuts, combined with other threats to free legal advice," said Justice for All.
Nationally, Radio 5, The Guardian and The Times, the Law Society Gazette, The Solicitor's Journal, and The Charity Times picked up on the groundswell of concern across England and Wales about the Government's proposals which would cut the best value-for-money legal aid and target charities' services.
Local and regional press and radio highlighted the events, as many Lady Justices and action heroes took to the streets in their areas.
The Government is expected to announce plans to press ahead with "devestating" cuts to legal aid shortly, and concerned individuals and organisations are being encouraged to contact MPs about their concerns.
Refugee and asylum-seeker campaigners are also outraged by the way their clients are being denied access to justice.
Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party, commented: "I am extremely concerned about the proposed limits on cases eligible for legal aid support. Reducing legal aid will increase the hardship of many as well as proving to be a false economy."
She continued: "If people do not get the help they need at an early stage, their problems will worsen, and that increases demand on other public services, such as health and social care."
"For example, in 2009-2010, Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) resolved 93 per cent of their housing cases without needing to refer the client to the council to make a homelessness application," the Brighton Pavilion MP explained.
Ms Lucas concluded: "It is sadly predictable that the worst off will be hit hardest by these changes. It is essential that the government works to ensure that equal access to justice is guaranteed." "
So how's it going I ask myself? - as I take stock and ponder progress so far. This campaign takes up a lot time and remember the day to day work of providing specialist help continues. Some of the cases I've seen of late, truly remind me of why I'm committed to doing all I can in doing my bit to save our legal aid.
There's an absolute deluge of Employment & Support Allowance appeals at the moment, the majority of which are successful; - it's very noticeable how so many of them centre around mental health issues. In order to prepare their cases, you have to intrude into client's lives a little more these days, it's shocking to hear some of the trauma which they recall. It's all too evident that in many ways benefit specialists are doing the job which the target driven health care professionals should get right; - but which they all too often get wrong.
What appalls me at the moment is the way the welfare reforms are being pushed through, it seems hardly anyone is prepared to stand up for the benefit claimant these days. It's sickening that they get such a kicking, it's unfair on the clients I'm seeing. There's just too much tarring everyone with the same brush. I'm disappointed in Ed Milliband's speech, it even seems that even a socialist party has joined the ranks of those who blame everyone at the bottom of the ladder for too much public expense.
Yesterday I spoke with two people I've worked with for years. They both work for a major mental health charity and I was saddened to hear they'd been made redundant. They are two completely committed and hard working people who now face the dole queue, it defies all common sense to put such people out of work. They both rang up to say goodbye and gave thanks for helping them over the years, I told them the gratitue was all in their direction.
I've got a journalist coming along on Thursday to hopefully get some major coverage in our local press of all the damage this is doing, I've asked for some prominence and I hope we get it. I'm armed with plenty to say.
Then on Friday we have our meeting at Exeter, this is when we meet other legal aid providers to discuss pitching our cases to the county MP's when we can get them all together at the same time. It's far from easy, we've had some saying they'll attend and Baroness Judith Jolly has agreed to chair the event. We are currently liaising with the MP's to get a convenient meeting time and date. It's far from easy.
I have no faith in central government changing their mind, they've shown no signs of listening ever since the consultation period began last November. However, I think backbench MP's are more in touch with their communities and can be persuaded to see sense. It does mean putting up a good argument and in that regard our provider meet is all about making sure we are effective when it comes to presenting our case. I'll encourage everyone to be critical if they think they're any chinks in the armour. It's very much a planning and preparation event.
I've worked on a presentation for welfare benefits, I'll be interested to see what others come up with on the debt, family, employment and housing.
It may be a question of 'back to the drawing board' after the meeting, I don't care; - we've got to get this right. I also think this is the opportune moment to be engaging with the Lord's, I think this is where the legal aid bill stands a greater change of being defeated.
I'll let you know how it goes. We did a newsletter of our event on the 3rd June, I'll see if I can get it on here to download.
On wards, we're going to be notching this up a gear now.
Well, another day in the never ending journey arrives. It's off to Exeter today to meet with other providers, we'll be comparing presentations, having a critique on our arguments; - the aim of which is to ensure we are all singing from the same song sheet, are cohesive in terms of how we all work in partnership as part of the Community Legal Service and putting over our best selling points.
Hopefully, it'll go well, next stop is rounding up all these MP's, we've had responses but now need to line up the dates. We'll also be looking at media strategy; - I suspect the parliamentary announcement due out today or Monday will tell us we're going to need one.
Could do without the cough and cold, but undeterred, have agendas done, promo materials, power point presentation looking good, right....where's the Lemsip?
Been on to the Herald Express yesterday, forwarded them a picture, just hope they get the article right!
I'll let you know how it goes. Anyone else is more than welcome to tell us how they're getting on by the way?
I'll update how the day went in due course. I'm overcome with 'Man Flu', it's a very debilitating illness which really takes its toll and needs intensive round the clock care, I'm hoping to get back to posting providing I can make it through the night ...
Here's the coverage we got in the local paper, it's never quite how you recall saying it but essentially it gives the stark reality of what's upon us...
My thanks to Jman for drawing this to my attention. Still suffering from Manflu I hadn't seen it, but scrolling through the Ilegal forum, it was there. I have to say these forums are always the first place for finding stuff out!
It's a bit of a shocker when you read it back, but it's the reality if these wretched reforms go through as law.
"Monday, 20th June 2011
"Legal aid crisis looms as advice centre budget cut
Monday, June 20, 2011 Torquay Herald Express
SOUTH Devon is facing a legal aid crisis as the government threatens to axe cash help for some of the most vulnerable members of society which could leave them facing eviction or even prison.
The proposed cuts will virtually wipe out the legal aid budget for South Hams Citizens Advice Bureau, which deals with hundreds of debt, benefits and housing issues across South Hams, Torbay and Teignbridge every year.
The bureau will lose around £180,000, some 65 per cent of its annual £290,000 budget, over the next two years.
But the bureau's case work supervisor Nick Dilworth warned that the loss of cash would make the legal aid system unworkable long before the two years is up, leaving up to six case workers out of a job and hundreds of desperate people with nowhere to go for help.
"The South Hams and surrounding Torbay area has one of the highest insolvency rates in the country and without the support of specialist advice services the volunteers would be hard pressed to deal with the increasing number of clients who present needing specialist legal advice by paid advisers," he warned.
"The legal services team has built up one of the largest legal aid contracts in the county and supports the volunteers in the work that they do."
The South Hams Bureau deals with welfare and benefit issues across South Hams, Torbay and Teignbridge. It also deals with debt issues for South Hams and Teignbridge and also helps with housing issues in partnership with the Shelter charity.
The latest government proposals will slash all legal aid for welfare issues and will allow cash help for people facing housing issues only if they are in imminent danger of losing their home.
"That is just daft," said Mr Dilworth. "The whole point of legal aid is to be preventive, avoid court and not leave things to the last minute."
He said at the moment the bureau is involved in more than 500 welfare cases and even more debt cases.
"There is nowhere else for them to go," he said. "Advice agencies are facing cut backs and restrictions in funding. We will have a situation here where very skilled specialists will essentially be out of work and there will be nobody to help these people. That's the absurdity of it."
The bureau, which has been operating legal aid contracts for the last 12 years, currently employs two specialists working on debt issues, another two on welfare benefit, two administrators and a volunteer.
It deals with cases through the local county courts and London tribunals.
Mr Dilworth said the bureau regularly deals with cases where people are at risk of losing their homes as well as benefits cases that can sometime spiral into criminal cases leaving people faced with possible jail terms.
The cuts danger was recently spelled out to Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston at a Totnes meeting involving a whole range of South Devon organisations including local councillors, solicitors, insolvency experts, Totnes Caring, the Totnes Children's Centre, Westcountry Housing, the local Community Voluntary Service and the Rethink and Cool Recovery charities.
The meeting was part of a national campaign to try and make the government rethink the cuts outlined in the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill.
"We are lobbying MPs very hard at the moment," said Mr Dilworth. "One of the daftest comments came recently from one minister who said that all welfare benefits advice is basic mechanical advice and people can sort out problems for themselves and we say that is just ridiculous."
Right, where now where did I get up to with all this I say to myself?
It would be an understatement to say the last week has been a bit hectic, struck down by flu hasn't made it any easier, but I'll try and get back on track.
Last Friday we had our provider meeting in Exeter, I'm grateful to those who DID attend, apologies were received from two firms of family solicitors, and Shelter let us know they couldn't make it at the last minute.
Frankly I wasn't impressed at the turn out, or rather the lack of it. People have said to me since, that they would have come if the MP's had been there, to be honest I'm glad they weren't!!
The whole purpose of the meeting was to prepare for meeting our MP's on a county basis. My thanks to Emma, Steve D, Steve B, John and Ann for what was a very useful discussion.
We've worked out the presentation for welfare benefits (subject to a bit of tinkering) but need to see where we're at with family, debt and housing. We're dropping Employment through an all too apparent lack of interest.
I've been in touch with our local MP and asked her to oppose the second reading of the bill this Wednesday, I'm pleased to see she attended the debate on Tuesday and raised a concern over clinical negligence, she assures me she would have mentioned us but by the time she got to ask a question they concerns over CAB had been very well aired. Having watched the debate, I'm assured that she's doing all she can.
Our MP has suggested holding the meeting in London, it's been an absolute nightmare trying to get it sorted in Devon, so London it will be.
The difficulty is that with the second reading on Wednesday it may be more the Lords where this gets fought out, none the less they'll be a fair amount of bouncing the bill between the House of Lords and the Commons so keeping constituent MP's on board is still all important.
I'm working on some other things which I can't post on here, just to say things are happening.
Well it's been hectic, more late nights! Combining this campaign with the everyday work we do is no recipe for a decent night's sleep.
I'm pleased at what's been achieved over the last few days and it illustrates the value of striking up a good working relationship with your constituency MP.
I was determined that our bureau would get a mention in today's legal aid debate and I'm very pleased to hear that it did. I'm grateful to Sarah Wollaston MP of the Totnes constituency for giving us a mention and asking how we'll manage if 55 to 65% of our legal-aid derrived funding is withdrawn and what will happen if the 10% fee reduction is imposed this October.
There was some excellent debate from both sides in the House of Commons and I was heartened at how social welfare law and the work of CAB and advice agencies got a great deal of praise.
The second reading did get voted through but it's clear there will be many ammendments, it's not a smooth passage.
Ken Clarke was I'm sorry to say the least impressive, not least because he absented himself from what was a very constructive debate, he did the launch and came back after so many good views had been exchanged. He displayed a surprising lack of awareness over social welfare law and the work of the CAB, he knows better and looked a little rushed and awkward at trying to sell it as general advice.
There's talk of a £20 million package, it's a start but it's clear Government has far from mopped up all the remaining questions which will now linger into the Lords. Something tells me Government knows it's got this wrong and I rather suspect there's a bit of head scratching as to how on earth they are going to put it right.
It was the second day in a row South Hams CAB got a mention in Parliament, yesterday we contributed to a debate secured by our MP on rural transport difficulties in South Devon. It's important to try and work holistically accross the full range of problems in your locality.
It was good to hear our MP call her CAB 'My CAB', that's how we like everyone to regard us, we're here for people.
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