Legal aid plan will hit poorest

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Advice services in Sheffield could be slashed under government proposals to reform the legal aid system.

The Government’s planned cuts to funding for legal advice will mean 3,495 people in the city will lose out, it has been estimated.

The Ministry of Justice wants to cut around £350 million from the UK’s £2.1 billion legal aid bill.

It wants to put an end to legal aid for divorce and custody battles, clinical negligence, employment and education law, immigration, and some debt, housing and benefits issues.

Campaign group Justice for All says the voluntary sector, which uses legal aid funding to offer help on issues such as debt, employment or benefits, will lose 76 per cent of its funding at a time when other streams are under pressure.

Justice for All spokesperson Gail Emerson said: “In Sheffield, as in the rest of the country, local residents will be hit hard by these cuts to such a vital service.

“The total bill for legal aid on social welfare issues like these only comes to £50m each year.

“Government spends almost three times more administering the legal aid system.”

Supreme Court Justice Baroness Hale said earlier this year the reforms would have a ‘disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society’.

“We have to be prepared to spend money on initial advice and assistance schemes because that is where most problems are solved,” she said

“Courts should be a last resort but they should be a last resort which is accessible to all.”

Jonathan Djanogly, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice, said: “Our proposals represent a radical, wide-ranging and ambitious programme of reform which reflects the Government’s commitment to ensuring that legal aid is available to those who need it most.”