Legal aid after the election – write to your new MP
Please take the opportunity to write to/email your newly elected MP to highlight to them why legal aid is important and the problems which legal aid is currently facing. Two possible templates are set out below.
By email/post to :
Re: legal aid after the election
Congratulations on being elected as the Member of Parliament for[CONSTITUENCY]. I am writing as both as a member of your constituency and as a member of [ORGANISATION] to voice my concern about the future of legal aid.
Why is legal aid important?
For 60 years legal aid has formed an integral part of the welfare state ensuring access to justice for those who cannot otherwise afford it. Without legal aid ordinary and vulnerable people would not be able to use the law to protect themselves and achieve their rights. Legal aid pays for these people to get help, advice and representation. It is used not only to defend people accused of committing crimes, but also for many other things including preventing homelessness and helping people receive the health and social services they need to live positive lives, and to which they are legally entitled.
The future of legal aid
The role of legal aid is crucial in times of financial adversity such as the present. This is particularly true in the context of debt advice and home repossessions. Additionally, legal aid is by definition a service generally only available to those with very little money and cuts to legal aid inevitably impact on the poorest in society. I would ask you to keep these thoughts in mind in considering your political choices during the next parliamentary session. In particular there are three particular issues currently facing the legal aid system which I would like to draw to your attention.
(1) Legal aid is running out
Legal aid firms are practising in areas such as housing law and immigration are restricted in the number of cases they can take on each year by a quota of ‘matter starts’. These quotas have proved inflexible in practice and as firms run out they are being forced to turn away vulnerable clients.
(2) Legal aid must be independent
The Labour government recently announced its intention to abolish the Legal Services Commission and replace it with an ‘executive agency’ within the Ministry of Justice. If legal aid decision making is to movecloser to government, it is essential that safeguards are put in place to ensure that funding decisions are made in the interests of justice alone and are protected from the pressures of political expedience. Many funding decisions are highly politicised. This might be said of any claim against a local authority or a government department. The right of right of ordinary people to hold these bodies to account is integral both to the rule of law, and to good and fair administration. These principles hold true whoever is in power. Unless independence for funding decisions is secured the government will effectively have a right of veto over any such claim, undermining these principles.
(3) Quality criminal legal aid work must be possible
It was the Labour government’s intention to overhaul the criminal legal aid market so that advice and representation will be delivered by a dramatically reduced number of very large firms. It is perceived that this will allow these firms to benefit from economies of scale thereby lowering costs. The flip side of this is a criminal legal aid market where lower paid employees with less legal experience and qualifications do more work with less supervision for firms with less specialist expertise. It is essential that the standard of advice and representation given to those accused of committing crimes is not eroded in the quest for a reduced legal aid budget.
I would ask you to give these issues due consideration and do what you can to take them further. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid is a relatively new APPG which is hosted by the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group and the Young Legal Aid Lawyers. If you are not a member already, please do consider joining it.
Please let me know what you will do to address the concerns that I have outlined in this letter. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you want a more ‘local’ letter here is a possible outline.
Congratulations on being elected as Member of Parliament for…………
We look forward to working with you over the next parliamentary term. We are a firm/law centre/ not for profit organisation. Then a brief history. Where we are, why we set up, what we do.
We are committed to serving our clients – description of clients.
A BRIEF PARA about current concerns.
Invite MP to visit to talk further.