Figures show legal aid cuts

THE LORD Chancellor has been accused of breaking promises after budget figures revealed cuts in planned legal aid expenditure.

Cash set aside for the next two years has been trimmed back by about five per cent.

The budget statistics also reveal a u70 million underspend for 1993-94 which legal aid lawyers say is due to the “over-the-top” eligibility cuts.

Lawyers are demanding that Lord Mackay reinstates the eligibility changes which he said he would if cash was available.

Russell Wallman, the Law Society's head of professional practice, commenting on the budget figures, says: “It's very disappointing, bearing in mind what he said at the time of the cuts. We expect Government ministers to carry out their declared intentions.”

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department says the situation is up in the air with a fundamental review still being considered. She adds there are no plans to restore eligibility while this continues.

Despite cuts in projected expenditure, the figures do reveal growth in the legal aid budget. The estimated spend for 1994-95 is u1,340 million compared, to u1,600 million for 1997-98.

The LCD says the figures show the Government's continuing commitment to the law.

But Lyn Devonald, chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, says it is time for the Lord Chancellor to fulfil his commitment to restoring eligibility.

Wallman says the 1995-96 figures, up eight per cent on this year, show there is enough money in the pot for Lord Mackay to increase legal aid rates for solicitors.

In last year's budget the planned spending for 1995-96 was u1,539 million and for 1996-97 it was u1,633 million. This year's budget the estimates are u1,460 million and u1,560 million respectively.