Legal Aid Cuts Will Hit Women, Warns Conservative MP Anna Soubry
Senior backbench Conservative MPs are concerned about the government’s changes to legal aid, Huffington Post UK can reveal.
As the government prepares to cut £350m from the legal aid budget, Conservative MP Anna Soubry has said she and some backbench colleagues are concerned about how this will affect women.
"We're not happy about the changes in legal aid… we're fearful they will affect women who are separating from husbands. We've identified that as a problem."
The coalition’s cuts to legal aid mean that in civil law cases, those going through divorce will no longer be entitled to help from the state.
In a meeting on Saturday attended by the attorney general Dominic Greive, the Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association said families, and victims of domestic abuse, could be hit by the cuts.
"If the government pushes through its proposed cuts to legal aid, the future for family justice looks bleak.
“This is not a matter of lawyers bemoaning further fee cuts: we have the support of a number of voluntary organisations representing women, children and victims of domestic abuse. These reforms will result in 54,000 fewer people represented in the family courts annually, affecting 68,000 children at the centre of traumatic family breakdown.”
The lawyer representing the family of Milly Dowler has also joined a rising chorus of objections to legal aid cuts, saying the reduction in so called ‘no-win-no-fee’ agreements would make it more difficult for individuals to take on large corporations which retain extensive and highly-paid legal counsel.
Tory MP Anna Soubry told the Huffington Post UK that she would not have a problem with the coalition's agenda, so long as there was test under which new policy would be examined to see if it strengthened female support.
There is widespread concern among Tories that female voters are deserting the party. The backbench MP says it’s clear they will impact women more than men.
“We have to persuade people that we are in touch with the needs and desires of all sections of society. And perhaps we haven't done a great job of that… the cuts will affect those women more profoundly. It's a very sad fact but hopefully when the growth comes, they will see why we had to do that.”
But Soubry said that the prime minister was sensitive to backbenchers’ concerns.
The internal tension over legal aid comes as Liberal Democrat coalition members have been pressured not to support the changes to legal aid.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “At more than £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. It is also a system that has grown to encourage lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings at taxpayers’ expense.
“We are clear we must reform the system to ensure that legal aid will continue to be available to those that need it most.
“These serious cases, including those where protection is sought against domestic violence, child abuse, child abduction and forced marriage, will continue to routinely receive legal aid under our proposals. We have also extended the powers for Courts to require one party to pay towards the other's legal bills.
“We are also providing £25 million, more funding than ever, to help separating couples finalise their arrangements through mediation.”