Teenager challenges Prime Minister over legal aid cuts

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Indy Politics

A schoolboy whose family endured an eight-year struggle to prove that his cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence yesterday took the campaign against cuts in legal aid to David Cameron's front door.

Andrew Green's parents relied on legal aid at every stage of their battle to demonstrate that his condition – shared by the Prime Minister's late son Ivan – was the result of mistakes during his birth.

They eventually won the marathon case, and used the compensation to move into a specially-adapted bungalow, pay for physiotherapy and speech therapy and computer equipment.

It has changed 14-year-old Andrew's life beyond recognition: he can now walk unaided, take part in sports, is taking his exams early and runs a business from his bedroom selling software.

He is also helping to lead a campaign, Sound Off For Justice, opposing the plans for widespread cuts in legal aid, including claims for clinical negligence. As MPs debated the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill yesterday, the cause took Andrew to Downing Street, where he handed in a letter of protest to the Prime Minister.

Andrew, from New Waltham, Lincs, told Mr Cameron: "I am not sure if you understand that removing legal aid will mean that families in our situation, in future, will have nowhere to turn to turn for help with legal costs.

"In my opinion, no one can pass such a sensitive Bill without previous experience of what it is like to be in the situations of people who need the legal aid you are going to remove."

His mother, Julie, a parish clerk, said: "We wouldn't have stood a chance without legal aid – the bills were hundreds of thousands of pounds and we did not know how long the case would last."

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, argues that such disputes can be resolved by mediation or by lawyers taking on cases on a "no win, no fee" basis. But critics maintain that legal firms will be deterred by the practical problems in demonstrating negligence.

Opposition to the cuts was growing yesterday. David Bott, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: "Mr Clarke will leave many seriously-injured people unable to obtain the compensation they need to get their lives back on track."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, accused politicians of delivering a "slap in the face" to ordinary families, children and the disabled.

Mr Clarke said yesterday: "Our legal aid bill the most expensive in the world by far and we are funding litigation which is perfectly unnecessary in less serious matters where really taxpayers shouldn't pay."

But he offered a concession by announcing an extra £20m in funding to law centres, whose future is threatened by the cuts. They provide advice in less prosperous communities.

The Justice Secretary also gave further details of moves to clarify the law on self-defence. He said householders would have a "perfect defence" if they hit a burglar with a poker.