Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lawyers will be the only winners of the government's reforms

I see that a recent  report from King's College London by Dr Graham Cookson entitled, 'Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms', shows that the cuts proposed in the coalition's Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill will give rise to unbudgeted costs of at least £139 million. By substantially reducing the scope of Legal Aid in three main areas alone: family law, social welfare and clinical negligence, the Ministry of Justice claims expected savings of £240 million. The KCL report estimates the costs, to this and other Government Departments, to exceed £139 million – which would wipe out almost 60% of the claimed savings.  
The report author, respected academic Dr Graham Cookson said: 'This research undermines the Government's economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on their claims of realising savings to the public purse.' He went on, 'Without a trial, it is impossible to say for certain what the impact of the proposals will be, just as it is impossible for the Government to assert that there will be a net saving of £270 million per annum.' But even beyond the unintended costs of perhaps somewhat hasty legislation, there is also the other inevitable unintended cost to all tinkering of this sort: that very clever lawyers will probably spend years taking the new legislation up through the higher courts, comparing it to previous legislation and precedent and in the process of clarifying end up making the whole area even more complicated than ever. Tinkering with the system usually leaves the lawyers as the only winners in the long run.

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