Legal aid ‘deserts’ warning

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There could be job losses for close to a third of legal aid lawyers and advisers as firms close or cut services, creating ‘advice deserts’ across the country in the wake of the legal aid cuts, according to a report published today.

According to an online survey of 670 legal aid workers, following the £350m cuts that came into force last week, 29% of respondents said they are at risk of redundancy. The research was conducted by Warwick University’s Centre for Human Rights in Practice and the ilegal website.

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The most experienced specialist advisers and those with over 10 years’ experience are most at risk.

Overall, 7% of respondents believed their firm or agency was ‘likely to close completely in 2013’ as a result of the cuts, and 25% estimated they could close in the next two years.

Some 55% said they would reduce the amount of specialist casework they offered, and 24% said they would cease to provide specialist casework.

The impact on the legal profession will be felt nationwide, but the survey shows that the north of England, the Midlands, the south-west and Wales are likely to be disproportionately affected.

Half of respondents who said their service is ‘very likely to close completely in 2013’ were from the north. 22% who said they could close in 2013-2015 were in the Midlands and 19% of those who said they would end specialist casework were from the south-west.

The report’s author Natalie Byrom said: ‘Legal advice services are most heavily concentrated in London and the south-east of England. But our survey found that it is the rest of the UK that will be disproportionately affected by reductions in legal advice services.’

She added: ‘This survey raises grave concerns about the creation of advice deserts and vulnerable people unable to get the advice they desperately need.’

Byrom noted that the advice sector has tried to shield clients from the impact of the cuts, but that a significant number of agencies said they will be charging for advice.

Founder of ilegal Patrick Torsney said: ‘These findings are indicative of the precarious state of the whole legal aid advice sector in this country at the moment.’

He warned: ‘Urgent action is required to protect it. Without such action there will be terrible consequences for vulnerable people across the country and for our legal system itself.’

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