Legal aid cuts will hit needy

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LAWYERS say Hartlepool will be one of the hardest-hit places in the country by Government plans to axe millions in free legal help.

The Justice Department is proposing to cut £350m in Legal Aid funding for people on low income in a host of civil law cases.

If passed, it will effect scores of people who want to go to court in family law, clinical negligence, education, housing and benefit battles.

Research by the Legal Action Group charity shows that Hartlepool is the 10th poorest area in the country.

It says the cuts will result in the loss of 835 cases, equivalent to £156,680 in unpaid Legal Aid.

Liverpool is top of the list, and stands to lose up to £1.7m.

The Government claims current spending on subsidised legal advice is too high, and reform is needed to tackle the “no-win-no-fee” culture.

Family law solicitor Jill Welch from Ben Hoare Bell, which deals with some Hartlepool cases, said: “How does someone on low income pay for divorce, or go to court without legal advice?

“The cuts are just huge and wide-ranging, and it’s going to be dreadful.

“It will apply to many people in Hartlepool as I know there are a lot of debt problems in the town.

“This is going to really effect people and their access to justice at a time when they are most vulnerable and most need help and it just won’t be there.

“It is going to remove people’s ability to get out of dangerous, unhappy, debt-ridden situations where children are at risk,” she added.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, has launched the Sound Off For Justice campaign against the cuts and wants people to sign its petition.

It says it can make savings of £384m through streamlining and capping of fees in the system while keeping people’s access to justice.

A spokesman said: “These reforms will turn back the clock and the courts will once again be the preserve of the rich.”

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “There is no doubt that the way the system works at the moment gives a perverse incentive to people to ramp up their claims.

“We have to reverse the mechanics of a system which is having not only financial, but cultural implications, in terms of people rushing to the courts, putting in claims unnecessarily.”