Lawyers have say on legal aid for the rich

LAWYERS have until the end of next month to respond to the Lord Chancellor's package of measures designed to prevent rich people milking the legal aid fund.

The Bar Council and the Law Society have broadly welcomed the plans but could object to individual proposals.

Society president Charles Elly says that turning legal aid into a loan would damage the system by “frightening people” out of accepting legal aid.

He adds that the problem of apparently wealthy people benefiting from the scheme must be kept in perspective. “The fact that many people are den-ied legal aid because they are required to pay a contribution they cannot afford is a much greater problem,” he says.

Bar Chairman Peter Goldsmith QC says the consultation paper draws on reform proposals put to the Lord Chancellor by the Bar last year.

Lord Mackay is calling for feedback on the idea that legal aid should be refused if an individual is leading what appears to be an affluent lifestyle. The paper accepts that this would require officials to make subjective judgments. He also suggests that the value of houses worth more than u100,000 could be taken into account in the means test.

But Lyn Devonald, chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, is concerned that elderly people living in large houses may be penalised unfairly. This problem is raised in the LCD's paper.

“It's the bottom end of the market which he needs to be looking at,” says Devonald.