The legal aid system is in crisis despite its ?2 billion cost, a Birmingham lawyer has warned.
Sukhdev Bhomra, vice president of Birmingham Law Society, said access to justice was being compromised and the emergence of advice deserts was likely to get worse.
And he re-iterated claims that an ongoing Government overhaul would force many Birmingham solicitors out of business.
Mr Bhomra said solicitors were being forced to reduce services because changes to legal aid meant they could no longer make work in areas such as criminal law, family law and immigration pay.
A lawyer for more than 20 years, Mr Bhomra has stopped offering legally aided family and immigration advice at his Handsworth firm, concentrating on criminal only. Of six firms in the same area, only one was now offering legally aided family and immigration advice.
"The legal aid system has become mired in red tape," said Mr Bhomra. "For family and immigration cases, solicitors are expected to fill out booklets of paperwork. The administration costs are so high."
As more lawyers pull out of legal aid work, Mr Bhomra is concerned that vulnerable groups will no longer be able to seek free advice.
He said: "As fewer and fewer firms offer legally aided services, it is becoming harder and harder for people to find assistance. Access to justice is being compromised because it is based on ability to pay: only those with deep pockets can afford advice.
"We are seeing more and more people in court representing themselves. In complex cases of divorce or where contact to children is an issue, the man-in-the-street simply cannot be expected to find his way around the complex law governing these matters. While the courts are largely sympathetic, and try to assist, they can only do so much." Mr Bhomra says the emergence of advice deserts is likely to get worse, as legal aid practices are struggling to recruit new solicitors.
"It is very difficult for legal aid practices to attract young graduates lured by the pay and prospects offered by the large commercial practices. As a result, there are no new firms emerging and the legal advisers in the legal aid sector are getting older.
"In my role as vice president of Birmingham Law Society I talk to a lot of law firms. Many in the legal aid sector say they are barely surviving and some are even talking of closing. Nor is it just the small firms that are feeling the pressure, the larger firms are equally vulnerable. The Law Society is predicting 800 firms will close as a result of the proposals."
The Government plans to overhaul the system by forcing law firms to compete for legal aid contracts through competitive tendering and fixing fees.
However, Mr Bhomra believes there are inefficiencies that should be ironed out to ensure the legal aid budget is going to those most in need.
He said: "A large proportion of that budget goes on expensive consultants and the administrative costs of keeping the legal aid machine running. What's more, some 40 per cent of the budget is spent on less than one per cent of cases." Certain fraud and very high cost cases gobbled up millions of taxpayers' money.
"It is cases such as these which have given rise to stories of the ?1 million legal aid lawyers."
The Law Society has launched the What Price Justice? campaign to try and persuade the Government to guarantee an adequately funded legal aid system. Birmingham Law Society is supporting the push, which has also been backed by charities such as the NSPCC, Shelter, Mind, Child Poverty Action Group and the Refugee Council.
Mr Bhomra said: "Our case is a hard one to sell. It could look like self interest. The truth is, some very vulnerable people are going to suffer through lack of representation. It is about access to justice for all."