Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Government must restore legal aid funding


This morning I spoke to charities, lawyers, MPs and members of the public about the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ campaign against Legal Aid cuts at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, chaired by Labour MP Karen Buck. The JCHR, which I chair, recently carried out an inquiry on the inability for most people to enforce their rights. While in 1979 77% of people were eligible for Civil Legal Aid, now only 25% of people are. This is due to Legal Aid cuts, which have led to a lack of Legal Aid lawyers in many areas, no Legal Aid for some proceedings e.g. inquests, and the government’s drumbeat of criticism of claimants. It is wrong that now you cannot enforce your rights or challenge unfairness against you unless you have money. The JCHR is calling on the Government to increase the number of people eligible for Legal Aid, at least to include those who qualify for tax credits and benefits and we proposed there should be Legal Aid for representation at inquests. In the 2013 Lakanal House inquest all the public services- fire, ambulance, council- had QCs and solicitors at public expense. The only people unrepresented were the tenants in the neighbouring identical block who had to watch their neighbours' children being brought out in body bags and put their own children to bed every night worried about their safety. The Government must ensure there is “equality of arms”. I’m working with Jeremy Lefroy MP to table an amendment to the next available Bill to require public bodies to pay 10% of what they’re paying for their own lawyers towards lawyers for members of the public with an interest but no legal representation.

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