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UK proposed legal aid cuts come under heavy criticism

The UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) [official website], an independent public body that investigates miscarriages of justice, warned on Monday that the government's proposed changes to legal aid could increase the likelihood of convictions of vulnerable or mentally ill suspects. With a mind towards reduce the costs of legal aid, on April 9 Ministry of Justice [official website] Secretary Chris Grayling [official profile] announced [press release] a series of proposals which would cut upwards of £220 million from the £2.2 billion legal aid budget. The CCRC expressed concerns [Independent report] that the planned cuts could undermine the ability of lawyers to prevent miscarriages of justice and land the taxpayer with significant debt in trying to remedy them.

Lawyers and legal organizations alike have responded critically to the proposed legal aid cuts. Last week the Law Society [advocacy website] described [press release] the proposals as "unworkable," and likely to cause "catastrophic" damage to the UK's legal aid system. Also last week the Bar Council [official website] released a blistering criticism [press release] of Grayling's proposals, claiming that the Ministry of Justice "failed to consider hard evidence" and that the proposals are "a breathtakingly convoluted way of finding ... savings." In a letter to The Times [media website] on May 7, nine leading legal academics from six of the UK's top universities set out their concerns [press release] that the government's plan to cut criminal legal aid and introduce a system of tendering based on price could have devastating and irreversible consequences, making access to justice available only to those who can afford it and abandoning the professional lawyer-client relationship.

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