On Tuesday 1st May the Queen gave her approval to pass the LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders) bill. This has been one of the most contentious bills of recent years and has provoked fierce debate in the commons.
The bill paves the way for the government to cut over £350 million in legal aid. Though everyone understands why these cuts need to be made, there did seem to be little agreement in the commons as to how the cuts should happen.
It seems that the areas that will be hit hardest are social welfare, housing, medical negligence, employment, debt and immigration. As of next year, advice and support for those affected by these issues will be severely reduced.
The strongest opposition to this bill has been from an ex labour minister, Lord Bach. His recent comments even went as far to describe the bill as ‘wicked’. He claims that the cuts that this bill will allow will leave many of the most vulnerable people in our society without the option of justice. He also claims that although this bill will save over £350 million in the short term, the long term cost could be much greater.
One of the main services that will be severely limited by the passing of the LASPO bill is the Citizens Advice Bureau. When the bill comes into force there will be significant funding cuts for offices across the UK. Many fear that this will mean that the Citizens Advice Bureau will have to start charging people for advice.
In response to the passing of the LASPO bill, many non-government organisations have set about finding ways to offer a realistic alternative to legal aid. Though there are some organisations that are adequately funded, many will really struggle to provide the necessary level of support.
Though the bill has been passed by the commons and by royal approval, the widespread disagreement on the subject means that it’s a subject that’s likely to be frequently revisited in years to come.