Public support for fee to stop weak legal aid cases

THE GOVERNMent is tampering with a fundamental human right for the sake of a “piddling” sum of money, according to public opinion research on legal aid conducted by the Law Society.

But there was widespread agreement that people should have to pay a fee to stop them bringing weak cases, although £10 to £20 was felt to be too high for pensioners and people on state benefits.

The research involved an opinion poll conducted by Gallup and a series of “group discussions” with targeted members of the public.

Eighty-four per cent of the respondents to the Gallup poll agreed “expenditure should continue at least at current levels because justice is too important to ration”.

More than half disagreed that the £1.4bn legal aid budget was too high, with one panel member describing it as a “piddling little figure”.

The weight of opinion was also “clearly against” plans to make legally aided parties more exposed to paying the other side's costs, according to a summary of the findings drawn up the by society.

It will use the data to support its claims that the government has misjudged public opinion with its proposals to completely change the system.

But at last week's Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth, a new era of co-operation between the Government and the Law Society was acknowledged by the Lord Chancellor's parliamentary secretary, Gary Streeter MP.

Speaking after the fringe Conservative Lawyers Association meeting at the event, he said relations had dramatically improved since the Law Society's legal aid conference in Cardiff last month.

But he joked that the majority of Law Society leaders were “praying on their knees” for a Labour victory at the next general election.