Open letter to Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister
16 April 2012
Ahead of the Legal Aid and Sentencing Provision of Offenders Bill's return to the House of Commons, an extraordinary coalition of charities and campaigning groups have joined forces to escalate their fears over another area of civil liberty - legal aid, right to the very heart of Government.
The charities have address an open letter directly to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, urging them to rethink their proposals for legal aid reform which will see thousands of vulnerable people denied justice.
Dear Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister,
Lords’ amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill
When you entered office in May 2010, you made a commitment that your Government would protect the most vulnerable. Yet you are now in danger of cutting legal aid for children, disabled people and victims of domestic violence.
We urge you to accept the sensible and considered amendments to the LASPO Bill made by the House of Lords, so that access to civil justice is protected for these vulnerable people.
Prime Minister, when you launched this Bill last year, you said: “If you heard of a way to make your policy better but you did nothing about it, that's not strength, that's not leadership. The tough, strong thing to do is to say yes, let's make this plan better."
Deputy Prime Minister, immediately before joining the Government in May 2010, you stated that a government containing Liberal Democrats would “usher in an era when the highest standards of evidence are seen as the baseline for judging policy-making.”
Yet your Government has up to now ignored the advice of an enormous range of academics, charities and legal experts, including representatives from all parties and the crossbenches in the House of Lords, who have provided evidence that the social costs of this Bill will be extremely significant, and the fiscal savings minimal or non-existent.
We are glad that the House of Lords have amended some parts of the Bill that were most likely to lead to unintended consequences and higher costs for taxpayers. These amendments combined have an upfront cost of only £24.7m which could be saved from elsewhere in the legal aid budget. Why, for example, is the Government penalising vulnerable people yet choosing not to recover legal aid from the frozen assets of rich criminals which could save £15m a year?
The Lords’ amendments are firmly grounded in the best available evidence and substantially improve the Bill. We believe they will make your Government’s legal aid policy better and we urge you to consider them with an open mind.
Peter Walsh, Chief Executive, Action against Medical Accidents
Stephen Remington, CEO, Action for Blind People
Richard Jenner, Director, Advice Services Alliance
Steve Johnson, Director, Advice UK
John Holmström, Assistant Chief Executive, Brighton Housing Trust
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Geraldine Blake, Chief Executive, Community Links
Liz Sayce, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK
Anna Bird, Deputy Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society
Jacky Everard - Centre Director, Hastings Advice and Representation Centre
Terrence Stokes, CEO, Lasa
Julie Bishop, Chief Executive, Law Centres Federation
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
Ms Farah Nazeer, Director of External Affairs, Motor Neurone Disease Association
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive, MS Society
Justine Roberts, CEO and Co-Founder, Mumsnet
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, NAT (National Aids Trust)
Jamie Hewitt, Government Affairs Manager, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society
Emma Scott, Director, Rights of Women
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive, Scope
Diana Fawcett, Director of Operations, Shelter
Rachel Maskell, National Officer, Unite
Barbara Rayment, Director, Youth Access
Notes to the Editor:
For more information please contact the Scope press office on 0207 619 7200.