Letter: Poor people are not abusing the legal aid system

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The Independent Online
Sir: Paul Vallely ("Natural born litigants", 2 July) should consider the plight of many poor people in this country who do not have access to justice.

There are hundreds if not thousands of potential litigants who are truly deserving of their legal remedy who are unable to pursue their meritorious cases because of the absence of funding. Furthermore, those plaintiffs who do qualify for legal aid have been paying very significant contributions to their legal aid for many years despite the inaccuracies in the media to the contrary.

One of my clients who sustained life threatening injuries as a result of a simple fall, is in receipt of family credit and she pays in excess of pounds 60 per month for the duration of the case. Seemingly it would be popular if more poor people paid even more. Other deserving clients who have had their lives ruined in appalling medical negligence cases cannot proceed because, despite their meagre incomes, they are outside eligibility levels and are unable to fund the expensive investigations.

It is very difficult in those circumstances to offer Lord Mackay's words of encouragement that people should "take a robust approach to life and accept that not every knock requires a legal response". Balancing civil liberties, public interest and policy objectives is never easy but the recent attack by the Lord Chancellor's junior minister upon Cyril Smith, who wishes to pursue a medical negligence action, is totally disgraceful. Should we not demand or expect standards of reasonable competence from our professionals?

I applaud government efforts to prevent abuses by rich people utilising funds that were intended for the poor, but the current hysterical campaign that poor people en masse are abusing the legal aid system by pursuing trivial cases, is appalling. It is not true. The legal aid system is vigorous in ensuring that only meritorious cases proceed.


Legal Aid Solicitor