Legal aid cuts 'necessary'

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Indy Politics
THE LORD Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, yesterday defended his plans to cut back on eligibility for legal aid, saying that they were necessary as part of the Government's package to reduce public expenditure.

He told members of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs that he intended to introduce the reforms as soon as possible.

The amount spent on legal aid had more than doubled in five years and would continue to rise by more than 10 per cent a year, even after the new measures were implemented, he said. The legal aid scheme would remain 'unparalelled anywhere in the world'.

He went on: 'I think that those who argue for even greater increases in the amount that we spend . . . are simply unrealistic. The growth of legal aid can only be bought at the cost of other socially desirable objectives.'

Earlier, representatives of the Law Society and Bar Council had told the committee that 14 million people would be affected by the plans, either because they would no longer qualify for legal aid, or because they would have to contribute a sharply increased share of the costs of the case.

The two bodies also said that they had put forward a package of measures designed to make savings of pounds 43m next year - the target at which Lord Mackay is aiming. Moreover, a 13 per cent drop in the number of criminal hearings in magistrates' courts would in itself save pounds 37m, they said.

In response, Lord Mackay told the committee that he could not rely on the package put forward by the Bar Council and Law Society to save more than pounds 8m. Many of their proposals had been tried before, without success.

He said that at present about 20 per cent of people turn down legal aid because they are asked to contribute towards the costs. Under his plans, this figure would double to 40 per cent. In total, the number of people who would be refused legal aid or who would turn it down as too expensive would increase by 120,000 next year.

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