Legal aid reforms under attack

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Consumer rights campaigners today urged the Government to reconsider its plans to reform the pounds 1.4bn a year legal-aid scheme.

The reforms, detailed in a White Paper, include a tougher means test for legal aid applicants, contributions towards costs from all applicants, and cash limiting in an effort to keep the legal aid budget under control.

The National Consumer Council questions whether the changes would really save money. It says the bulk of legally aided cases involve custody, access to children and divorce disputes, home repossessions and personal injury claims, and it argues that if people are deterred from seeking aid to resolve such disputes, there may be significant knock-on costs in other areas.

The NCC chairman, David Hatch, said: "The proposals seem to be based on myths and guesswork. In place of solid facts, we are told the rationale for change is widespread public concern - concern which, if it exists at all, relates mainly to the use of legal aid by the rich, not the poor, in a number of highly publicised cases."