Children hit hardest by legal aid reform, says study

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More than 200,000 children and young adults will be hit by heavy cuts to the legal aid budget, according to research.

The Government plans to reduce spending on legal aid by £350m by removing it from most cases of family breakdown, medical negligence, immigration, debt and welfare benefit.

Research by campaign group Sound Off for Justice suggests that 6,000 under-18-year-olds and 69,000 adults aged 18 to 24 will lose access to legal aid.

A further 140,000 children – mainly from poorer homes – will be hit by the withdrawal of legal aid from their parents. They include 68,000 youngsters caught up in family breakdown cases.

Teenagers and young adults will be disproportionately affected because they represent a large part of the population which is homeless or jobless and will no longer get free legal advice.

A report by the campaigners warns that the Government could be storing up long-term problems as research suggests that £1 spent now on legal aid saves the taxpayer £8 in the future. They were backed by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner, who warned the cuts would "significantly disadvantage tens of thousands of children and young people".

She said the Ministry of Justice had been warned about the impact of the moves on vulnerable young people, including those who had been injured or had special educational needs: "The removal of legal aid will mean that these children are left to navigate alone a legal system that is designed for adults. Denying them professional representation is a denial of justice."

The planned changes could run into strong opposition in the Lords. Critics include the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association, which has accused its party of failing to oppose the cuts more strongly within the Coalition.