An influential Tory MP yesterday condemned The Law Society’s claim that people will die as a result of legal aid cuts as 'irresponsible'.
Ben Gummer, a member of the House of Commons committee scrutinising the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), was speaking at a Party Conference fringe meeting in Manchester organised by the Law Society and campaign group Justice for All.
He had been told by Law Society vice-president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff that denying legal aid to most victims of domestic violence could lead to a fatality, a view Scott-Moncrieff also expressed at last month’s Labour Party Conference.
But in an impassioned defence of government policy, Gummer, MP for Ipswich, told opponents of LASPO to 'get real'.
He said: 'We have to make savings in this financial year and we're not in a perfect world. If we don't do something then we'll be back here in 2016 asking for a 30% or 40% cut and the fight we're having now will be nothing like the fight we'll have then. It really is "do or die".
'The Law Society is representing a very diffuse industry and you're defending people to protect their livelihood, but to come forward and say people will die is irresponsible.'
Gummer, who predicted 'significant amendments' to the bill when it reaches the House of Lords, said the bill should be viewed as an opportunity for 'fundamental reform' of a legal profession he claimed has changed little in the last 100 years.
Scott-Moncrieff stressed that the Law Society plays a key role in upholding the rule of law and influencing legislation, and that it was unfair to accuse it of acting purely out of self-interest.
'When we talk about the NHS reforms, we talk about patients rather than doctors, so why are protests at legal aid cuts about protecting solicitors?
'It seems to me lawyers in private practice or in law centres are doing the government's work. Most legal aid cases are against government departments which are not doing their job properly.
'The government should adore legal aid lawyers - we are forcing the courts to help victims to get the help they need and forcing public bodies to improve.
'Councillors and MPs will soon see this in their surgeries as there won't be anywhere for their constituents to go.'