Controversial legal aid bill gains royal assent

Amid much controversy, and to the profound disappointment of many in the profession, the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill has received royal assent. Parts one and two of the hotly-contested bill will come into force in April 2013.

As reported in the Law Gazette and Legal Futures, LASPO paves the way for cuts to legal aid and the reform of conditional fee agreements. The bill was opposed in both houses of parliament, and by the Law Society's opposition campaign Sound Off for Justice, particularly in relation to the removal of legal aid for areas of law that include social welfare, private family, employment and clinical negligence. Former Attorney General Baroness Scotland and Lord Pannick were also vocal opponents of the bill.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said of the bill's enactment: "This act ensures we will continue to have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world, which together with no win, no fee deals means that legal help is widely available for those who cannot afford a lawyer. It will help people to explore the range of practical advice available to them to tackle problems early, rather than immediately taking legal action."

In contrast, Law Society President John Wotton warned: "The consequence of this act will be that, in some very important areas like housing and welfare benefits law, vulnerable members of society will find legal advice and representation in the courts, funded by legal aid, more difficult to obtain." He added: "We cannot pretend that the final act is the outcome for which we had hoped."

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