Legal aid 'made my son's life bearable'

Andrew Green at Downing Street
Image caption Andrew Green, 14 (middle), handed in a letter protesting against the changes to legal aid

Campaigners against proposed changes to the legal aid system say it will result in a "far more unfair society" and they took their campaign to Parliament on Wednesday.

Julie Green's son Andrew was born in 1997 with cerebral palsy from childbirth complications.

She says he would have a much lower quality of life if legal aid had not been available.

After initially being told her claim for negligence would fail, she managed to get funding for a specialist lawyer. An investigation was eventually launched that ended with a seven-figure compensation settlement.

Andrew's family can now afford to pay for the care and support he will need for the rest of his life.

"He's doing excellently - mainly because of the legal aid," said Mrs Green.

"We can take him to physiotherapy and speech therapy - things that he needs that we wouldn't have been able to do."

"The legal aid and winning the case has made his life bearable."

Andrew's family say they could never have afforded a lawyer out of their own pocket.

"Some of the bills were in the hundreds of thousands," said Mrs Green.

Image caption Campaigners gathered to highlight their concerns with the Justice Secretary's legal aid cuts

The chief executive of the Law Society, Des Hudson, was one of those supporting the group Sound Off for Justice at the event on Wednesday.

He said people like Andrew would find it much harder to enforce their rights under the changes.

"Ken Clarke needs to explain to those people who will no longer qualify for legal aid how will they get justice in his plan," he said.

"The courts need to be for every member of society, under these proposals they won't be."

Mr Hudson also attacked other aspects of the bill, such as clause 12, which puts forward a change to the universal right to a lawyer when in police custody.

Under the powers, a person's right to free advice would depend on their financial resources and the merits of their case.

As well as a backwards step in terms of protection for the citizen, the Law Society CEO said, he also questioned the practicalities of such a move.

"How on earth you're going to carry out a means test at three in the morning when someone is stuck in Paddington Green police station I'm not sure," said Mr Hudson.

'It scares me'

Family law cases, such as divorce and custody battles, and employment and education disputes will also be largely excluded from legal aid.

Clare Hook, from London, used legal aid to stop her daughter being sent to a special needs school after she was identified as having "dyslexic-type difficulties" and being of "below average intelligence".

Convinced the decision was wrong, Mrs Hook challenged her local authority in a tribunal and the original diagnosis was found to be incorrect. Her daughter now goes to a more suitable school.

"My daughter wouldn't be achieving what she's achieving now if it wasn't for the legal aid system," she said.

"I don't know where she would have been today - and that scares me.

"It's drastically important for parents. I should have the same right as the local authority. They turn up with representation, they use the legal system - I should have the right as well if I can't afford it."

'Alternative needed'

The government has hit back at critics of the bill and said that legal aid has become bloated and "expanded far beyond its original scope".

It says many cases can be resolved without litigation, for example by using mediation, and points to the fact that the £2.1bn legal aid bill is the largest in the world.

Image caption Former attorney-general Baroness Scotland says a re-think is needed

However former Attorney General Baroness Scotland, who agreed that cuts to the sizable legal aid budget were needed, but told the BBC the government should look for an alternative.

"I'm really worried about the way it's cutting so much in relation to people who are vulnerable," she said.

"I do think we can change. I know we have to - the Law Society and the Bar Council both accept that - just not these changes.

"They have to listen to what the professionals are saying, but also listen to the people who are in need of this legal support."

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