MPs will struggle to cope with the impact of legal aid cuts as their constituency surgeries become inundated with requests for advice from people who have lost out on publicly-funded legal guidance, lawyers have warned.
Cuts to legal aid firms and Law Centres will mean that people will increasingly turn to their local MP for legal advice, a report by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) predicted, warning that MPs' constituency offices would be inundated with complex legal cases that they are not equipped to cope with.
Reforms to the legal aid system currently going through Parliament could mean that state support will not be available for a number of legal disputes including many immigration and debt cases.
A significant amount of the work done by MPs for their constituents involves legal disputes. The YLAL report found that cuts to publicly-funded sources of legal advice would mean that the burden would increasingly fall on MPs who lack the resources and expertise to properly represent claimants.
“The areas of law that are to be removed from the scope of legal aid correspond closely with those areas for which constituents habitually turn to their MPs for assistance,” the report states. “MPs will be faced with more such issues if the cuts come in to force…there is a risk that MPs will struggle to deal this burden and that constituents will lose out as a result.”
The report, which includes responses from MPs and caseworkers in 45 constituencies, will be submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid today.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North said that legal aid firms in his constituency were already closing down.
“My staff already deal with around 2,000 cases a year,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot more and the pressures are going to get greater. We haven’t got the resources to cope with it any more than any other MP has.”
“I don’t think many MPs have fully cottoned on to the full implications of the legal aid cuts,” he added. “I think they’ve got a fairly rude awakening coming in the near future if this law gets through.”
The Government’s legal aid bill, which has already suffered three defeats in the House of Lords, is intended to save £350m from the Ministry of Justice budget.