Letter: Poor people are not abusing the legal aid system

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Sir: Lord Mackay wishes to cut legal aid to those whose cases are "weak, trivial and undeserving" by introducing financial changes said to be based on the principle that people who can afford to pay for their own legal help should do so ("Legal aid shake-up cuts costs but stirs a storm", 3 July).

When Norman Lamont took his tenant to court he received legal aid of pounds 4,000 towards his solicitor's bill. When William Waldegrave, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Trefgarne, former Defence Minister and other such deserving poor wanted advice from their own private solicitors on how to handle questions and criticism from the Scott Arms-to-Iraq Inquiry, they received legal aid of pounds 750,790 to do so. Presumably their help from the taxpayer was non-means tested. Even then some of them, notably Geoffrey Howe QC frequently squealed how beastly unfair it all was.

Most people who require legal aid are not in such a fortunate position. They are already subject to stringent tests on their own means and upon the merits of their case. If they have to go to law to assert or defend their rights, it is usually because there is no other avenue of redress open to them. Rights which cannot be asserted or defended because the Government chooses to deny access to competent legal help are not worth having at all. Perhaps that is the real purpose of these reforms.


Dowse and Co, London E8