by Mary Kaye – President
It is difficult to believe that it is Easter time, looking out at the snow covered ground. It is also hard to believe that it is almost 12 months since I took up my position as President of Birmingham Law Society.
It has been an extremely interesting but challenging year for our profession. It is a challenging time for both you the reader and consumer of legal services, and for those of us who work hard to try and ensure that the public have access to legal advice across the board.
On Monday 1 April 2013 the Legal Services Commission will be replaced by the Legal Aid Agency. This will result in substantial cuts to the availability of legal aid to the public. Under the new rules, most private law services will not be available unless you are a victim of domestic violence.
More worryingly, before legal aid will be provided you will need to provide “trigger evidence”. It is not clear as yet what will suffice as “trigger evidence” although the Ministry of Justice is drafting guidance on this point.
There is no doubt that a radical review of legal aid was necessary. Unfortunately, when a Government’s main purpose in reform is cost cutting, the outcome usually affects those most in need. All but the very poorest will now be excluded from being eligible for legal aid. Another important change to note is that legal advice in relation to debts, special education needs and discrimination claims will now initially only be available through the Community Legal Advice Helpline. Gateway call operators will access the specific needs of callers on a case by case basis.
It is vitally important that we continue as a society of lawyers to lobby MPs and Parliament to ensure that if we claim to be a civilised society, our citizens should have to access to justice.
The impact of these radical changes remains to be seen but we must not believe that we have to simply accept without question changes made by Government. We are all as individuals responsible for those we elect to govern our country.
My successor, Martin Allsopp, will continue to update you on this and other matters.