The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has called for legal aid rights for Londoners, currently under threat from the government’s proposals following the Carter review of legal aid, to be protected.
The Mayor said: “London is a highly successful world city but it still suffers from huge inequalities in income. The Legal Services Commission acknowledges that more people rely upon legal aid in London than in any other region. Cuts to legal aid will therefore hit Londoners hard, and Black and minority ethnic or disabled Londoners who do not have the means to pay for legal representation are likely to lose out most.
“As a diverse city, London will be badly hit if specialist and community-based law practices lose the ability to take on legal aid work. The large number of small Black and Asian legal firms in London is no accident – they are highly valued by the communities they serve. The proposed replacement of such firms by larger, non-local legal groups through the competitive tendering process will cut off many communities from access to the legal aid system.
“Coming at a time when the funding for Community Law Centres has also been under attack from a number of London councils, such as Hammersmith & Fulham and Camden, this would represent a further step back from the provision of access to justice for all.
“There needs to be an urgent review of the effects of the new fixed fee system. By not taking into account the higher costs of operating in the capital, the system raises the real possibility that firms will simply not tender for legal aid contracts in London, or refuse to take on complex or specialist cases, such as those under the new sexual orientation laws on goods and services. Disabled clients who may have complex cases or might require additional or home visits or interpretation may not be given the help they need. Anyone who requires additional time for translation may find it difficult to get representation. Not for profit legal providers will not be able to keep going. This could effectively mean the end of legal aid provision in London, as we know it.
“I hope that the government will reconsider its approach, and take account of the concerns raised by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, the Access to Justice Alliance, MPs, Black and ethnic minority organisations, and many others. I am supporting the Access to Justice Alliance week of action on legal aid from 14 –18 May, and I urge the government to carry out proper pilots of the proposed competitive tendering arrangements and to scrap fixed fees.”