New Labour's plan to use savings from legal aid for its much-heralded nationwide community legal service has been attacked by the law centres bidding to be at the core of the new service.
Delivering a speech at the Law Centres Federation (LCF) annual reception for MPs at the House of Commons last week, LCF chairman Mahmud Quayum said: "The insistence that the community legal service can only be created if there are savings in other areas of legal aid could wreck the chance of any meaningful service starting in the foreseeable future.
"We do not accept that the ability of poorer and more disadvantaged members of our society to have access to legal advice and representation in areas of law crucial to their basic needs should be linked to the overall legal aid budget."
While confident that a "workable and fair system" could be created based on existing law centres, Quayum warned: "It will take years to develop a workable community legal service and we believe that the work should start now."
He added: "We do not believe that the Lord Chancellor can achieve that aim and simultaneously achieve such a substantial budget cut."
Cuts of about £80m are expected to next year's legal aid budget.
The LCF's bid to become the core of the proposed community legal service was backed by Labour MP for Cleethorpes Shona McIsaac.
She said: "We see the expansion of the law centre service throughout the country as crucial to this development."