LAG condemns Govt plans for use of legal aid savings

THE Legal Action Group (LAG) has attacked government plans to divert legal aid savings away from the justice system.

Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced plans to reduce the legal aid budget by 4 per cent by the year 2001/2.

That will a mean a decrease in the budget from £1.602bn to £1.552bn – and Brown told MPs that some of the savings would be spent on policing.

While solicitors breathed a sigh of relief that the government had not fulfilled Tory promises to cut legal aid by 5 per cent, LAG head of policy Vicki Chapman accused it of running against the “spirit” of its previous promises.

In December the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, told the House of Lords that he intended neither to increase nor reduce the legal aid budget – and he and his deputy, Geoff Hoon, have repeatedly promised to use legal aid savings to improve access to justice for the poor.

Chapman said: “Greater priority must be given to the field of social welfare law, where legal services are currently inadequate. Lack of tribunal representation in immigration, employment and social security cases puts individuals at a disadvantage.”