Legal Aid Bill gets a mixed reception

Toby Perkins MP

Toby Perkins MP

Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST) are celebrating after the Government was forced to review proposals which would exclude suffers of Mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by contact with asbestos, from ‘no-win, no-fee’ legal representation.

The Government wanted to block ‘spurious claims’, but campaigners, including Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins, forced the government into a u-turn after the Justice Secretary admitted the severity of mesothelioma is indisputable.

DAST activist Helen Redfern, whose father, Roy Redfern, died of mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos whilst working for Severn Trent Water and in the building trade, welcomed the government’s reluctant backtrack with cautious optimism.

Following Toby Perkins’s presentation of Roy’s experience in the House of Commons, Ms Redfern said: ‘my father died of this terrible illness before he could claim compensation, but my mother and I were able to pursue the claim for negligence after his death. If costs had been attached, we would have been unable to proceed with the action. I am determined that others affected by this terrible disease have the same access to justice that we have had.’

However whilst DAST’s supporters are celebrating, other local support groups are despairing that their objections to different aspects of the bill have not been addressed.

The new laws impose a 12-month time limit for the evidence produced to corroborate experiences of domestic violence.

Dena Trossell, Strategic Head of Service for North Derbyshire Women’s Aid, who is opposed to the 12 month limit, said: ‘Due to the nature of domestic abuse, many victims wait years before reporting perpetrators. Implementing such a short time constraint will almost certainly leave victims worse off.’

But it’s not just vulnerable women who will be losing out. Cuts to the funding of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Chesterfield Law Centre threaten to leave people with nowhere to turn for advice on serious but everyday legal problems that could see them homeless, jobless and without any income.

CAB Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, warned: “Our frontline caseworkers and managers have told us that the impact of the proposed changes to legal aid on specialist services will be devastating. The overwhelming majority say that it will be impossible to provide a specialist service, whilst over half say that it may be impossible to continue providing any advice service at all.”

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins fought Bill, which suffered an unprecedented number of defeats in the Lords.

Mr Perkins said: ‘This legislation is an attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society.

‘The onslaught on our precious legal aid system is an act of vandalism for which this Lib Dem backed Tory-led Government will be forever remembered. Changes have to be made in our management of the legal system and Labour offered alternative savings, but these were rejected. Funding of our vital grass roots advice network – our CABs, law centres and victim support organisations – is now threatened. This will expose the most vulnerable in our society drowning with debt, housing and welfare benefit problems to the full force of the law, without any of the crucial early stage advice and support that’s proven to make a real difference, and ultimately save the taxpayer money down the line.’

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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