The Law Society has joined forces with a number of charities and organisations to launch a campaign calling on the Government to invest money immediately to avoid the ?piecemeal destruction of the legal aid system?.
?The most vulnerable in society are already struggling to find legal aid advice to help gain custody of children, fight eviction or prevent domestic abuse,? said Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson at the launch of the What Price Justice? campaign, which demands action in advance of the reforms proposed in the Carter report. ?Getting legal aid advice is a postcode lottery now but these plans could turn it into a national lottery. The Law Society is not opposed in principle to the new business model devised by Lord Carter but the government must provide investment to stabilise the legal aid sector now for these reforms to have any chance of succeeding,? he said.
The Law Society is supported in the campaign by groups including MIND, Shelter, the NSPCC and the Social Welfare Law Coalition. The Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) has also lent its weight to the initiative after carrying out a recent survey that found over 80 per cent of England and Wales could have no legal aid family practitioners if the proposals went ahead with no further investment.
?Our concerns are about the rights of children and their often underprivileged parents,? said Caroline Little, co-chair of the ALC. ?Without effective legal advice and representation they will never have their voices heard when they defend themselves against the might of the state.?
?Getting legal aid advice is a postcode lottery now but these plans could turn it into a national lottery.?
Hudson added: ?The scale of concern about these proposals is clear from the widespread support this campaign has received from organisations representing the most vulnerable in society. We all believe that there is a significant threat to access to justice arising from inadequate funding by Government. As a result, a central pillar of a decent civilised society is at risk of disappearing.?
The call for funds came the day after the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer told a Legal Aid Forum at the Law Society that there is ?no extra money for legal aid?. ?There is no bottomless pot,? he said. ?If I had the money I would give it to legal aid. But there are finite resources for legal aid - just as for all public services -and those resources must be judged against other priority areas like health and education.?
The Lord Chancellor insisted that, despite protestation to the contrary, ?it is simply not the case that under-funding is the problem?. ?The problem is that this money could be more effectively utilised,? he said. ?There is simply no extra money for legal aid. We must operate within these parameters.?