Public funding is to be withdrawn from family law cases, such as divorce and child contact, and from debt, education, employment, housing, clinical negligence, immigration and welfare benefits.
The MoJ estimates the cuts will save £350 million. Practitioners have until Valentine’s Day to respond to the consultation, “Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales”.
Funding will remain in place “where people’s life or liberty is at stake, or where they are at risk of serious physical harm, or immediate loss of their home”.
Legal aid is therefore retained for asylum, mental health, housing cases where someone’s home is at immediate risk, and cases involving domestic violence, forced marriage or where children are being taken into care.
Fees paid in all civil and family cases will be reduced by ten per cent. Peter Lodder QC, Vice-Chairman of the Bar Council, said the effects would be “brutal”.
The cuts in rates would be “tough for the young Bar”, who might struggle to build their practices, he said.
“So there will be a challenge for many practitioners to diversify. The Bar has demonstrated its ability in the past to adapt to the new environments and looking ahead the publicly funded Bar will have to compete harder for work.
“There is no doubt there will continue to be opportunities for the Bar to win advocacy and advisory work on the strength of the quality of its work and its comparative cost advantages against other service providers. To take advantage of these opportunities the Bar needs to be prepared for change.
“It is in the public interest that there is a strong and independent Bar to provide access to justice and also to ensure that the administration of justice is efficient and effective.”