Letter: Legal aid must stay at the cutting edge

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your excellent editorial 'One law for the rich, one for the vulnerable' sensibly criticised the Lord Chancellor for rushing into 'the blunt instrument' of cuts in the eligibility of legal aid rather than putting in place a strategy to control legal aid costs. As you point out, restricting eligibility does not cut costs, it merely shifts them from the tax-payer to the poor.

During the brief investigation into the Lord Chancellor's proposals that the Home Affairs Committee undertook recently, it became clear that no one disagrees that there is a need for a reform of the system. Various groups, including the Law Society and Bar Council, have put forward alternative cost-cutting measures, which the Lord Chancellor has not looked at in sufficient

detail.

But as our report states, cuts in eligibility 'do not sit easily with the Government's strategy to make the consumer and the citizen more aware of his or her rights and more tenacious of them.'

If John Major is serious about a classless society in which poverty does not impede justice and in which citizens have inalienable rights, he should instruct the Lord Chancellor to reconsider. A start would be to timetable a full day's debate in the House of Commons in government time, as our report advocates, where Parliament could debate the effects these measures will have on the rights of 14 million of the people we represent.

Yours sincerely,

BARBARA ROCHE

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

(Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

23 March

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