Survey slates legal aid as 'second-rate'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government's legal aid shake-up will be dealt a serious blow today when a report reveals that the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society are receiving a "second-rate service".

A Consumers' Association survey found that many people are reluctant to use solicitors or legal advisers. Those that do complained that solicitors were uncommitted and junior staff were often assigned to their cases. Young people were the worst served. Their responses indicated a complete breakdown in trust in the system.

The sssociation said its findings, based on interviews with 80 people in receipt of legal aid, stressed the need for the Government's move towards a new Community Legal Service (CLS) to be properly resourced.

The CLS replaced the legal aid system on 1 April, in a change that the Government promised would increase access to justice by creating an interweaving network of legal service advisers and providers.

But the association described some of the CLS proposals, such as an internet legal service, as based on a "let them eat cake" philosophy.

The survey also found government bodies such as the Home Office and Benefits Agency were slow to respond to inquiries, with some cases taking years to settle. Many felt the effective service they were getting was hampered by official inefficiency and bureaucracy.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said the CLS had taken account of much of what the association's research had shown.