Friday 13 April 2012 by Catherine Baksi
Opponents of the government's legal aid reforms have united to lobby MPs to retain amendments made by peers when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill returns to the Commons next week.
The Law Society and Bar Council, together with bodies representing charities and advice service providers, have issued a joint briefing urging MPs to accept the changes made to the bill last month.
According to the briefing, the Lords amendments, which include preserving legal aid for children and in welfare benefits appeals and reviews, will retain 93% of the £350m savings the government says the bill will achieve.
Some changes - to impose a duty on the lord chancellor to ensure access to justice, to provide legal aid to all domestic violence victims and to ensure the independence of the director of legal aid casework - will have no extra cost, it says.
The briefing adds that alternative savings of £35m could be made to offset the cost of the amendments. Allowing the frozen assets of criminal defendants to be released to fund their defence costs could save £15m a year, and retaining legal aid for expert reports in clinical negligence cases could save between £10m-£18m per year, the briefing suggests.
Law Society president John Wotton has written to local media organisations urging them to encourage MPs to back the changes made to the bill.