Increase in legal aid limits attacked as inadequate

Click to follow
PROPOSALS for an above-inflation increase in qualifying limits for legal aid received a cool reception yesterday as senior lawyers warned the rise failed to compensate for cuts made last year.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, plans a 3.8 per cent increase in limits on income - 1.3 per cent more than inflation - and a 15 per cent increase for the 'green form' legal advice scheme.

The changes also include abolishing the means test for representation before Mental Health Review Tribunals.

Robert Seabrook QC, chairman of the Bar, said the changes were a stark reminder of how 'appallingly low' thresholds for legal aid eligibility had become, although the green form increase was a 'small step in the right direction'.

The lower disposable income limit for civil legal aid would rise from pounds 2,294 to pounds 2,382. Upper limits would go up from pounds 7,500 to pounds 7,780 for personal injury cases and from pounds 6,800 to pounds 7,060 for others. The lower weekly limit for criminal legal aid would rise from pounds 44 to pounds 46.

Mr Seabrook said: 'The new increase does nothing to restore the cuts the Lord Chancellor made last year, so many individuals will still find themselves unable to take up cases that affect their daily lives.'

Lord Mackay was anxious to improve the availability of the green form scheme for people dependent on certain benefits, particularly invalidity benefit. The changes would raise the lower income limit from pounds 61 to pounds 63 per week and the upper limit from pounds 147 to pounds 153 a week.

Rodger Pannone, president of the Law Society, the solicitors' body, said millions of people would still be unable to afford the advice or representation they needed. He said: 'Legal aid is expected to be underspent by pounds 60m this year so I am sure the Lord Chancellor has scope to do much more.'

The Lord Chancellor's Department said that even with the expected underspend, Lord Mackay remained concerned that the budget would still have risen by 11 per cent in the past year.