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Civil legal aid plans criticised

Civil legal aid plans criticised

The country's top judge has warned that Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to slash civil legal aid for a wide range of disputes could cost time, money and have "serious implications for the quality of justice".

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, who discussed the impact of the plans with other judges, said they could cause a "huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants". He also added that the Government's consultation paper "fails to recognise the depth of the problem".

Under the plans civil legal aid would be scrapped for cases involving relationship break-ups, immigration and school admissions and expulsions.

Actress Joanna Lumley, who spearheaded the recent Gurkhas campaign, has also urged Mr Clarke to re-think his plans, while it has been met with widespread opposition from the legal profession.

In the judges' response to the proposals, Lord Judge said: "One of the major concerns running through our comments is that the proposals would lead to a huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants, with serious implications for the quality of justice and for the administration of the justice system."

It would lead to additional costs and delays, he said, "at a time when courts are having to cope in any event with closures, budgetary cut-backs and reductions in staff numbers".

Lord Judge added: "The proposals would damage access to justice in a number of ways."

The cutbacks would "undermine the work and even the viability of community advice agencies, "to the particular prejudice of the disadvantaged", he said.

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