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CUTS to the legal-aid budget have “deprived people of their human rights” and must be reversed, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said today.
The Labour deputy-leadership candidate quoted Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who last year compiled a damning dossier on the impact of austerity on Britain’s poorest.
During justice questions in the Commons, Mr Burgon said: “A year ago the UN special rapporteur said Conservative cuts to legal aid have effectively deprived people of their human rights to a remedy.
“Isn’t it the case that if the UN special rapporteur came back today they would make exactly the same finding, because this government has done nothing to address this?
“Is that failure to respond because of incompetence, or is simply because they do not care?”
The number of unrepresented defendants in crown courts is rising. In November, government figures showed that 7.7 per cent of those at a first hearing last year had not been represented by a lawyer, up from 4.9 per cent in 2010.
The newly elected Tory MP for Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines, a former legal-aid barrister, also urged the government to spend the legal-aid budget on those most in need.
Justice minister Wendy Morton said that the government spent £1.7 billion last year on legal help and was in the process of launching “a series of pilots” offering support to people with social-welfare problems such as with housing.
She said it was important that legal aid was used only by those “who need it most” and that applicants for funding were subject to stringent merit tests.
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