Law lord attacks legal aid cutbacks

MANY PEOPLE are being left vulnerable to exploitation because constraints on the availability of legal aid mean that they can not afford the cost of civil justice, a law lord warned last night.

Lord Woolf said it was 'deplorable' that fewer people qualified for legal aid and so were unable to protect their rights through the courts.

Giving the 1994 Presidential Address to the Bentham Club in London, Lord Woolf accepted that the legal aid budget for England and Wales was 'enormous' - amounting to a total of pounds 1,406m this year.

However, he said that it was the 'unvarnished truth' that millions of people were being deprived of the lifeline of civil legal aid by cutbacks in its availability.

He said: 'While in respect of our health we demand that no one should be prevented because of a lack of means from receiving medical treatment, with regard to civil justice for our fellow citizens our society is prepared to accept a lower standard.

'A system of justice which a very substantial section of its own citizens cannot afford is a system which contains a fundamental flaw and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.'

In his speech, he said that there should be an urgent review of whether legal aid was being targeted in the most constructive and effective manner and whether there were ways to make litigation accessible to those without great personal wealth, an institution or the legal aid fund to fall back on.