As the government’s proposed Â£350 million legal aid cuts return to be debated in the House of Lords, an independent report from one of Britain’s leading universities reveals how these changes will incur new costs for the taxpayer by simply shifting the burden onto other parts of the public purse, such as the NHS.
The King’s College London (KCL) report, Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms, shows that the cuts proposed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill will give rise to unbudgeted costs of at least Â£139 million, undermining Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke’s contribution to the Government’s deficit reduction target.
By substantially reducing the scope of Legal Aid in three main areas alone: family law, social welfare and clinical negligence, the Ministry of Justice claims expected savings of Â£240 million. The KCL report estimates the costs, to this and other Government Departments, to exceed Â£139 million “ which would wipe out almost 60% of the claimed savings.
The report author, respected academic Dr Graham Cookson said: ‘This research undermines the Government’s economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on their claims of realising savings to the public purse.’
‘Without a trial, it is impossible to say for certain what the impact of the proposals will be, just as it is impossible for the Government to assert that there will be a net saving of Â£270 million per annum.
Desmond Hudson, CEO of the Law Society said: The Ministry of Justice has defended swingeing cuts to Legal Aid in civil cases, which will deny justice to thousands, on its need to contribute savings to the Government’s deficit reduction programme. The Law Society accepts the need to achieve savings, but this report confirms that much of the Ministry of Justice’s claimed savings are being achieved at the expense of other parts of Government.
This is kamikaze accounting and will do little to tackle the deficit while sacrificing access to justice. Should we be promoting our justice system internationally while denying access to ordinary citizens?