Shadow minister visits Brighton to learn about effect of legal aid cuts

Posted On 17 Nov 2011 at 8:44 pm

For the second day running a shadow minister visited Brighton.

Shadow Justice Minister Lord Bach went to BHT – formerly Brighton Housing Trust – this morning (Thursday 17 November).

Lord Bach – also known as Willy Bach – went to hear how people would be affected by cuts to legal aid.

His visit follows an appearance by Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, yesterday. The former Labour Health Secretary spoke at the Royal College of Midwives conference at the Brighton Centre.

Lord Bach, a Labour peer and former Legal Aid Minister, is due to lead for the opposition in a debate in the House of Lords on Monday (21 November).

Peers are due to debate the coalition government’s Legal Aid Bill at its second reading.

Lord Bach will bring to the debate practical insights gleaned at BHT’s advice centre at Community Base in Queen’s Road.

During his visit he listened to the charity’s advisers and some of the people they have helped.

Those taking part in the discussion also included advisers from the Legal Services Commission who help people who have turned to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Lord Bach was accompanied by fellow Labour peer Lord Bassam – former Brighton and Hove Council leader Steve Bassam.

Controversial

The Shadow Justice Minister has spent the past three months working with peers from other political parties.

His aim has been to inform them and their colleagues across the House of Lords about a number of controversial issues relating to social welfare advice arising from the Legal Aid Bill.

Lord Bach said: “Our record in government wasn’t perfect – far from it – but we never cut legal aid for social welfare.

“These proposed cuts will mean that ordinary people, particularly the least well off, will not be able to get the early legal advice from BHT and other advice agencies that is so necessary for sorting out legal problems.

“This will mean that these problems remain unresolved, with increased costs and pain for the individuals concerned and indeed a financial cost for all of us.”

Lord Bach has Information gathered during the visit to BHT will contribute further to their work.

In Brighton alone, BHT and Brighton and Hove Citizens Advice Bureau say that they risk losing £1million a year if the proposed cuts are made.

This is funding currently used to support more than 3,000 of the most vulnerable people in the area. Only a fraction of those people would be helped in the future.

Complex

John Holmström, assistant chief executive of BHT, said “Our services most affected by the legal aid cuts are non-asylum immigration, welfare benefits and debt.

“Each of these services will be completely cut.

“In benefits cases we routinely win 90 per cent of appeals.

“The law is complex and without specialist legal support the people involved in these cases are less likely to achieve just outcomes.

“There is a short-termism about the proposals.

“Expect increased homelessness, family breakdown and general hardship.

“We will see higher costs in court and tribunals alongside significant loss of prevention, thereby creating further demand on already overstretched public services.

“With better understanding, we hope the House of Lords will recognise the planned cuts are too severe.”

BHT employs 245 members of staff in 25 service areas in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings.

BHT Legal Services employs 40 staff including eight lawyers to provide a range of specialist legal advice in housing, immigration, welfare benefits and debt at advice centres across the area.

Last year almost 8,000 men and women used these services.

Lord Bach’s visit came as the House of Lords Constitution Committee published a critical report on the proposed reforms.

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