Legal aid cuts universally condemned

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the Shadow Legal Aid Minister Lord William Bach have come together today, to condemn the Government for cutting the legal aid training contract grants scheme.

In yet another shocking example of how the least well-off in our society are now the Government’s lowest priority, new Tory legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly has scrapped the legal aid training contract grant scheme. The scheme, which was introduced by Labour in 2002 and costs the average UK taxpayer around eight pence per annum, helped to create more than 750 new legal aid solicitors over the last 8 years.

But now thanks to the millionaire legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly, who unsurprisingly chose to train as a corporate finance solicitor himself rather than work in legal aid, there will be fewer solicitors in future to help those who cannot afford to pay, further disenfranchising those who earn little or nothing at all from having access to justice.

Moreover the cuts threaten to jeopardise hundreds of potential new jobs over the next few years, with far fewer training contract places available for LPC graduates, who are already struggling to overcome so many barriers within the profession.

Take Daniel Harrison for example, a trainee solicitor from Eastbourne who benefitted from the scheme. He told me earlier today that he wouldn’t have gotten a training contract at his firm without the training contract grant. With part of his salary being paid by the grant, it allowed him to carry out work that whilst not always being particularly profitable, did in-fact serve to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Needless to say the scrapping of the training contract grants scheme has been universally condemned by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, by colleagues at the Junior Lawyers Division and by the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, who spoke exclusively with me earlier this afternoon.

Labour’s Lord Bach condemned the move, saying “this is a mean decision which will lead to some skilled and committed young lawyers not choosing the legal aid path, but looking to other parts of the law. Everyone knows that there may have to be some savings in the total legal aid budget, but to cancel this superb scheme which has worked so well for the last 8 years in order to save £2.6 million, looks petty and incredibly short-sighted. A Labour Government would not have made this decision and I hope to raise the issue in Parliament in the next few days.”

Nobody at the Ministry of Justice was available for comment when I telephoned them earlier today. Probably because the scrapping of the scheme isn’t yet official, despite emails being sent out to dozens of people by the LSC, and the legal aid minister telling a group of lawyers about the plan in person yesterday morning.

Beth Forrester of the Junior Lawyers Division said “the JLD is acutely aware that the current financial climate has had a grave impact on the availability of training contracts throughout the profession, but we are very disappointed to see that those junior lawyers in particular, who are looking to progress in an area of law which is of maximum benefit to the community, are going to be hardest hit.”

Beth’s comments were echoed by Grace Brass, Council Member for junior lawyers on the Law Society’s governing body, who said “if we do not support the training of legal aid lawyers now, the future looks bleak for the profession and society as a whole”.

As luck would have it, the Junior Lawyers Division’s next quarterly meeting is on Saturday 10 July, and Chair Heidi Sandy has agreed to table an emergency discussion and response to this extraordinary development. 

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