Baroness Helena Kennedy has called on the legal profession to pull together to fight against proposed legal aid cuts that will ‘leave a real lacuna for those most in need’ and increase the risk of miscarriages of justice.
Her plea came as the Law Society launched the first stage of a campaign against the proposals. It has prepared a briefing pack to help firms lobby MPs and local media over the impact of the cuts, ahead of its activities to persuade government to amend the plans.
The Labour peer and civil rights barrister told the Gazette that lawyers from big and small firms need to present a united front against changes that will see areas of civil law such as housing, debt, welfare and education removed from the scope of public funding.
She predicted this would require the use of judicial reviews to challenge some of the decisions made on legal aid scope and eligibility.
‘The profession has to be the guardian of legal aid, and it hasn’t done this soon enough,’ she said. ‘Many of the current proposals are due to the fact that the legal profession did not do enough to tackle past abuses of the legal aid system.’
Kennedy said the proposed changes will create ‘advice deserts’ and ‘leave a real lacuna for those most in need’.
She said the government’s reforms ‘denigrate’ the expertise of legal aid lawyers and showed that ministers do not see their work as ‘real law’.
Kennedy added: ‘Legal aid cases are the cases where advances in the law are made. The government doesn’t take this type of law as seriously as commercial and corporate law, yet it’s actually where law is most needed and where justice is most often denied.’