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14th June 2011

Clarke legal aid reforms under fire

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's proposals to make £350 million worth of legal aid savings have come in for fierce criticism. A report said Mr Clarke's plans would hit the vulnerable and poor the hardest, leaving them without legal representation. The Government's legal aid reforms would result in 500,000 fewer instances of legal assistance and 45,000 representations each year, according to the report. The current annual legal aid bill stands at £2.2 billion.

The report, Unequal Before the Law?, was compiled by the Commission of Inquiry into Legal Aid. The commission's panel - made up by former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, Diana Holland, of the trade union Unite, and the Reverend Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, the former canon of Westminster Abbey, said:

"Legal aid is essential to holding the state to account. "It would be wrong in principle for the state to tolerate bad decision-making while at the same time removing the ability of ordinary people to hold those bodies to account for their mistakes by reducing legal aid."

Mr Clarke insisted the reforms will 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.

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Needs Dev Joanne Gibbons

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Joanne Gibbons

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