Legal Aid Reform Is 'Recipe for Murder' as Legal Aid "Reforms" Are Introduced, MICHAEL BROWN Finds out Why the Changes May Not Be What They First Seem, and How Experts Believe That Could Lead to Murder
IT seems somewhat appropriate that the Government's Legal Aid "reforms" are being introduced on April 1. As for thousands of men, women and children in the North East the results of the changes may end up feeling like a particularly sick joke.
From Monday, new rules are being brought in to cut Britain's PS2bn a year legal aid bill by PS350m, which, coupled to a PS2m funding cut for the region's Citizen's Advice Bureaus, have raised fears that it will deny help for people challenging a wide range of issues. Unfair dismissal from work, sorting out debt problems, appealing against a benefit decision and housing cases, unless someone is at immediate risk of being made homeless, will all lose out.
But it is the impact it will have on families that legal experts are most concerned.
All along, the Ministry of Justice has maintained that the victims of domestic violence will still be protected, but experts like solicitor Cris McCurley and Umme Imam, manager of the Angelou Centre, which supports black and minority women, say that stance is at best misleading and at worst downright dishonest - and it's only a matter of time before it leads to a death.
"The majority of people, even people in Women's Aid and the domestic abuse centres, are taking the Government's statements that Legal Aid will always be available for victims of domestic abuse at face value," said family law specialist Cris, a partner at Byker-based Ben Hoare Bell.
"In theory that's true, but in practice it'll be so hard as you have to prove you're a victim.
"The MOJ said they had to stop people who were pretending to be victims robbing the system. But the MOJ knows, because it's so well reported, even by the Home Affairs Select Committee that the problem is under, not over reporting.
"The Government's own research says people will be assaulted on average 35 times before they ever report it to police."
Britain is one of a number of countries signed up to the 1979 United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which is overseen by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Every four years national governments must produce a report on how they believe they are getting on with efforts to eliminate discrimination, then legal experts and people working in each country produce their own "tell it how it actually is" report.
"Complying with CEDAW is not voluntary and the UN will hold us to account," said Cris, who describes the "reforms" as more a "slashing and burning. …