Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Memorandum submitted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities (LA 55)

I am writing on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities to share with you our worries about the proposals for legal aid contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

The Equalities APPG discussed these proposals at a meeting on Tuesday July 12th. Members then expressed concern both about the speed with which this bill is being taken through the House of Commons and about the proposals to limit the access to legal aid for many of the most vulnerable people who experience discrimination and disadvantage in many aspects of their lives. In particular members are concerned about:

· The removal of legal aid in most subject areas, both in the lower and the higher courts,

· The limitations on access to initial legal advice for people who have had their legal rights infringed.

Access to legal aid

Whilst we welcome the inclusion of legal aid in respect of claims under the Equality Act 2010 we are deeply concerned that claims in relation to welfare benefits, clinical negligence, criminal injuries, debt, employment, immigration (excluding asylum), housing (unless a person is facing homelessness) and divorce are excluded from receiving legal aid whether the case is in the higher or lower courts. These cases will include complex cases which cannot be adequately presented without access to specialist legal help, yet they will not meet the very restrictive requirements of the ‘exceptional cases’ criteria.

The Government’s initial Equalities Impact Assessment clearly showed that these proposed cuts would be discriminatory in their impact because black and minority ethnic people and people with disabilities will be particularly adversely affected. For example, in employment cases clients are 24% ethnic minorities, in non-homeless housing they are 31% ethnic minorities and 27% disabled and in welfare benefits they are 27% ethnic minorities and 63% disabled. This compares to a national population of 8% ethnic minorities and 18% disabled people. [1] These figures show a significant adverse impact for ethnic minority people across all these categories and for disabled people in relation to non-homeless housing and welfare benefits. [2]

Even though the Government has acknowledged that some of its proposals ‘do potentially have a greater effect on those with a particular protected characteristic’ nevertheless they argue that their proposals should be fully implemented as they are ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’, namely the saving of money. These provisions will certainly not promote equality of opportunity as required by the Public Sector Equality Duty and will do disproportionate damage to disabled people and ethnic minority people’s lives.


The Government is proposing a single telephone helpline to give advice on the limited areas that remain in scope for legal aid and introduce a phased expansion of this to other areas. We are concerned about the accessibility of this service to vulnerable groups of people such as those who don’t speak good English, people with mental health problems or those with other disabilities such a hearing limitations.

In view of the particular equality impact of the proposed changes to legal aid we do regret that you have not had the opportunity to hear from any equality organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission or the Equality and Diversity Forum or from organisations representing ethnic minority people or disabled people. Nevertheless I hope that you will be able to take account of our concerns. I would of course be happy to meet with you and your committee.

Yours sincerely

Sandra Osborne MP


July 2011

[1] All these figures are taken from the MoJ Equality Impact Assessment.

[2] It is perhaps not surprising that disabled people are underrepresented in employment cases since one of the particular problems frequently experienced by disabled people is difficulty in getting a job.

Prepared 7th September 2011