The Socialist 17 November 2010 |
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Coalition turns back the clock on justice
THE COALITION government intends to virtually end legal aid in civil cases, with few exceptions. This devastating move will turn the clock back 60 years by denying justice to hundreds of thousands of people.
It means that many people will be unable to obtain legal advice over certain housing issues, family law, clinical negligence, education, employment, immigration, benefits, and debt. Individuals are expected to take out medical-style private insurance instead.
Some £350 million a year (15% of the budget) will be cut from state aid to individuals in plans announced by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke.
The government will also introduce a new financial qualifying threshold of £1,000 for legal aid.
Currently, anyone with assets worth less than £8,000 qualifies for civil legal aid. Those with savings up to £3,000 pay nothing and others are expected to make a contribution.
Under the new system, the limit would be a flat £1,000 of assets with property values included for the first time, effectively ruling out almost every homeowner.
The contribution expected from claimants would rise from 20% of weekly income to 30%.
Organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau are at risk of closing down because they face a cut in their legal aid funding.
Legal aid firms and local law centres providing equally valuable services are already under the financial hammer and are closing down. Six law centres closed in 2008 (including Leicester and Lewisham), and a further six became critical in 2009. There are now only four law centres in the North East, and only one in Liverpool.
Clearly, for the Tories and their Lib Dem chums, legal representation, first and foremost, should be a privilege for the rich.
Legal aid providers and clients must take the campaign to the trade union movement. The threat to the legal aid system is part of a general attack on services and the working class and poor. Defending it and all our services will take a mass movement of service users, trade unions and communities.
Law lecturer, Kent