'Guesswork' jibe at govt legal aid plans

The Government's plans to end free legal aid are based on misinformation and guesswork and should be dropped, according to a report by the National Consumer Council.

In a detailed submission to the Government, published on Monday, the influential group says the plans will not necessarily save taxpayers' money.

The report warns that the costs of recovering contributions towards legal aid from people on very low incomes could be prohibitive, as could the cost of rehousing people who lose their homes through lack of legal advice.

The NCC is particularly concerned about proposals to make all legally-aided litigants pay a minimum contribution, to make unsuccessful litigants on legal aid liable for opponents' costs, and to make applicants with £100,000 of equity in property liable to use that equity to contribute towards the cost of their cases.

The report challenges claims that large numbers of weak and trivial cases are being funded by legal aid and calls on the Government to publish evidence that many of these cases escape the merits test. “Before adding new strands to the merits test, research should be undertaken to determine if the test itself is flawed or whether it is not being applied properly.”

It also calls for evidence to back up claims in the White Paper on legal aid that the system unfairly pits legally-aided people with trivial cases against those who just miss the eligibility criteria. NCC research has shown legally-aided people are often up against a landlord, government agency, or insurer.