Category Archives: Legal Aid

Tories got HALF A MILLION sickness and disability benefit assessments wrong – in five years

Logical conclusion: The Tory-run DWP’s persecution of benefit claimants has been implicated in the deaths of many thousands of people.

Research has shown that new benefit assessment techniques imposed by the Conservative government have led to more than 500,000 wrong benefit assessments in the last five years.

The evidence also shows that other measures introduced by the Tories have served to hide the facts from the general public.

The research covered benefits including Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and its replacement benefit Personal Independence Payment.

The good news is that appeals against bogus decisions are at their highest success rate yet – the article on Teesside Live (link below) shows an increase in successes in North East England from 41 per cent in 2013 to 63 per cent in 2018. Across the UK, the success rate stands at around 76 per cent.

But the number of appeals reaching tribunals has fallen massively since the Conservatives axed legal aid for such cases – pricing such action out of benefit claimants’ capabilities.

The Labour Party has vowed to restore legal aid if it wins the election on December 12, to restore fairness to the system.

The research made it clear that the main reason for appeals against benefit decisions was “poor decision-making” and “obvious inaccuracies” by the private asessors hired to carry out interviews with claimants.

One way to challenge such issues is to record assessments, but it was recently revealed that the Tories have insisted on PIP claimants buying hugely expensive recording systems in order to do so – in what seems an obvious attempt to make it impossible. What benefit claimant has that kind of money?

Note also:

Daphne Hall, the vice chair of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, said: “… The DWP tend to base their decision purely on these assessments and disregard other evidence sent in by the claimant.”

Yet this evidence is always demanded – and further evidence is always demanded when a claimant appeals.

The DWP’s claim that “appeals represent a small percentage of all benefits claim it handles” is unconvincing because of the obstacles the government has put in the way.

Since 2013, people seeking to overturn a benefits ruling must complete a written challenge within a month, known as a mandatory reconsideration. If unsuccessful, people can then appeal against the decision at tribunal.

The problem is that most people run out of money long before the initial process is concluded and are forced by financial necessity to seek an alternative benefit (usually the nightmare that is Universal Credit), even though it is entirely inappropriate.

The denial of legal aid means most people are left unable to navigate the UK’s labyrinthine legal system. For most sick or disabled claimants, it may be impossible to gather together all the information required by a tribunal without help from a legal professional.

The DWP has claimed that any suggestion of a decline in appeals due to legal aid cuts is “pure speculation”. It would, wouldn’t it?

But its further claim that only four per cent of ESA decisions and five per cent of PIP decisions are overturned at appeal rings hollow in the knowledge that this constituted more than 70 per cent of all appeals.

Doubly hollow, in fact, in the knowledge that the number of appeals fell massively after the axing of legal aid.

This is darkly humorous, too: “It says it expects the ‘highest of standards’ from assessment providers and continually monitors performance, while PIP and ESA assessments are carried out by health professionals ‘who receive a variety of training in physical and mental health conditions and have the right clinical experience’.”

Oh really? And did the PIP assessor who happened to be a physiotherapist but ended up examining a person with multiple sclerosis have “the right clinical experience”? Of course not.

Oh, and: “It says PIP was introduced to ensure mental health conditions were given the same parity as physical conditions.” Oh really? This seems strange, considering the fact the mental health conditions are not mentioned even once in the points-based system on which PIP awards are based.

As This Site has demonstrated many times before, the Tory benefit system is a mockery.

Labour has promised to reform the system, dissolving the DWP altogether and replacing it with a new Department of Social Security.

Labour also intends to pilot a Universal Basic Income scheme, in which everybody receives an amount of money deemed enough to support them – making assessment interviews unnecessary.

People with illnesses and disabilities would receive appropriate top-ups.

Considering the huge number of deaths that have been connected with bogus benefit refusals, this is to be welcomed.

So the choice for people claiming – or dependent on – benefits is between an ever-more-draconian Tory system that penalises those in genuine need – often to death, and a return to justice under Labour.

That isn’t even a choice, is it? It has to be Labour all the way.

Source: DWP: Disabled Teessiders wrongly denied benefits are increasingly beating the government at appeal – Teesside Live

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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Legal aid decision for Shamima Begum allows the Tories to give free rein to their hypocrisy

Hypocrite: Jeremy Hunt.

I can’t say I’m happy that the UK is likely to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on legal aid for Shamima Begum’s bid to regain her citizenship.

As you know if you read my previous work on this subject, I subscribe to the belief that Ms Begum knew exactly what she was doing when she left the UK to join a terrorist organisation (Islamic State) that wants to end the way of life enjoyed by citizens of this country, and I think her plea to be returned to the UK – at our expense – was motivated only by the fact that IS appeared about to be wiped off the map.

It’s the prevailing belief across the UK but proved controversial in some parts of the Internet, where critics suggested my view was racist and ignored the grooming (wrong word – they meant radicalisation) of innocent people into supporting terrorism.

It seems to me that there’s only one way to find out who’s right – and that is to have all the relevant information aired in a court of law.

So I reluctantly support the provision of legal aid in this single case.

But I object to the Tory hypocrisy about it.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (April 15), foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt justified the decision to grant legal aid by saying: “We are a country that believes that people with limited means should have access to the resources of the state if they want to challenge the decisions the state has made about them and, for obvious reasons, those decisions are made independent from politicians.”

That’s two falsehoods in one sentence.

The Conservatives certainly do not believe people with limited means should have access to state resources to challenge state decisions.

And they don’t want those decisions to be made independently.

The Conservative Party has cut legal aid to members of the public by 20 per cent – severely restricting access to justice.

The Tories’ Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act of 2012 cut the legal aid budget by £350 million and ended the right to legal representation in large areas of the law on divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.

Amnesty International said the cuts had created a “two-tier” system that denied the poorest people access to justice.

Particularly hard-hit have been people with disabilities; the total number of disabled people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011-12 to just 308 in 2016-17.

And this is exactly as the Tories wanted it.

Back in 2013, I wrote:

“This vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.

“It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.”

So when Jeremy Hunt tells the BBC, in all his hypocrisy, that “we are a country that believes that people with limited means should have access to the resources of the state if they want to challenge the decisions the state has made about them”, then we – the country – know he is excluding his government from that statement.


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Tory raid on legal aid has seriously harmed justice for the disabled – as intended

Justice is blind – but there’s no justice for the blind here: Protesters argue against legal aid cuts.

This Site was among those who deplored the Tory plan to steal legal aid from poor and vulnerable people, including the disabled, from the start.

The new official figures show that I was right.

Back in 2013, I wrote:

“This vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.

“It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.”

I added: “We all thought the Tories would be left heartbroken after the Hunting Act took away their favourite extracurricular pastime. It seems they have found another blood sport to replace it.”

How right I was.

The extent to which savage government cuts have deprived disabled people of legal aid in disputes over their benefit payments is revealed today by new official figures that show a 99% decline since 2011.

The total number of disabled people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011-12 to just 308 in 2016-17, cutting some of the most vulnerable people in society adrift without expert advice in often highly complex and distressing cases.

MPs and charities representing disabled people reacted furiously to the figures, released in a parliamentary answer, saying they bore out their worst fears at the time ministers announced the cuts several years ago.

They called on the government to speed up an ongoing review of the legal aid system and to end a Whitehall culture that, they say, too often views disabled people as easy targets for savings.

Source: Disabled people lose legal aid in 99% of benefits disputes | Society | The Guardian


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Tory legal aid cuts have turned courts into a national shame

Mr Justice Bodey said he had sometimes had to cross-examine witnesses on litigants’ behalf [Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA].

This Writer has published many times on the national scandal that is the Conservatives’ removal of support for legal advocacy in our courts.

It has turned legal debate at hearings from expert discussion into farce, and justice into a thing of the past.

Fair play to judges like Mr Justice Bodey, but it is not their job to act as advocates for either side, let alone both.

How is justice served by this scurrilous and grubby Tory money grab?

One of the most senior family court judges has warned about the impact of legal aid cuts and said it was “shaming” to preside over cases in which individuals are forced to represent themselves.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark his retirement, Mr Justice Bodey explained how he sometimes had to help litigants in person by cross-examining witnesses on their behalf.

His comments highlight dismay among the judiciary about the Ministry of Justice’s slow progress towards reviewing the effect of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act.

The legislation removed more than £350m from the legal aid budget and ended the right to legal representation in large areas of the law on divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.

Last year, Amnesty International said the cuts were far worse than anticipated and had created a “two-tier” system that denied the poorest people access to justice.

The family courts have been the worst-affected part of the justice system. More than a third of family cases involve litigants who are unrepresented on both sides.

Source: Senior judge warns over ‘shaming’ impact of legal aid cuts | Law | The Guardian


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Labour demands the restoration of legal aid and an enforceable right to justice

Legal aid campaigners demonstrating in Westminster in 2013, when the cuts came into effect [Image: Alamy Stock Photo].

Jeremy Corbyn is to be congratulated for his sense of timing.

The day after it was revealed that the Conservative Party has cut legal aid to members of the public by 20 per cent – severely restricting access to justice for the poor – he has released a report demanding justice for all.

And the report has been helmed by Lord Bach, who spoke so eloquently against the Tory policy in a debate This Site reported, years ago.

An additional £400m a year should be spent restoring access to a more generous system of legal aid, according to a Labour-backed report which calls for a legally enforceable right to justice.

The two-year-long review, led by the former justice minister Lord Bach, launches an alternative vision of equality before the law and condemns austerity policies that have imposed a “disproportionate” share of cuts on the legal system.

Commissioned by Jeremy Corbyn and launched on the eve of the Labour party conference, the study focuses criticism on the coalition government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act 2012, which severely restricted eligibility and the scope of legal support.

Source: Labour-backed report calls for more generous legal aid system | Law | The Guardian


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Tories will be celebrating after figures show they are denying justice to the poor

Blind justice: Now, thanks to the Tories, it is also deaf to the appeals of the poor.

It is exactly as This Writer warned, back in 2013.

In an article in February of that year, I wrote: “This vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.

“It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.”

Would you like to know why?

Because, according to Lord Bach, who was quoted in the article: “This is not likely to be a saving at all in the end.

“The state… will eventually have to pick up the pieces when things get much worse than they need to. How can the Minister or any government justify this either in terms of common decency, which should appeal to this House and normally does, or even under the rule of law?”

The Conservatives must be delighted.

They have succeeded in depriving the poor of access to justice, meaning that they have succeeded in perverting the justice system to serve the whims of the rich, allowing them to exploit the poor and vulnerable without fear of prosecution for it.

British justice is no longer blind; it is deaf and dumb as well.

Ministers have admitted that the number of legal aid providers across England and Wales have been cut by 20% in just five years, removing a lifeline for people facing family break-up, housing problems or challenges with benefits assessments.

The Law Society warned that hidden behind the figures, which were obtained from government by the Labour party, were hundreds of thousands of people missing out on much-needed support.

Justice minister Sam Gyimah published statistics that showed a dramatic decline in legal providers across all regions of the country – with Wales showing the largest drop of 29%. The figures were also high in the south-west (28%), the north-west (27%) and Merseyside (24%).

Shadow justice minister Gloria De Piero, who obtained the figures through a parliamentary written question, said: “How much you earn shouldn’t make a difference to whether you can get legal advice on a bad landlord or a protection order against an abuser, but it’s clear that the government’s cuts to legal aid are making it harder for people to access justice.”

Source: Number of legal aid providers falls 20% in five years, figures show | Law | The Guardian


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Omnishambles over legal aid cuts: Plans on hold after law firms challenge new contracts system

mr-gove-lays-down-the-law-cover

We haven’t heard the word ‘omnishambles’ in a while, but it still sums up Conservative Government ‘reform’ plans perfectly.

Tories don’t understand that their proposals would wreck the UK’s public service, legal and financial systems, and ministers like Michael Gove (Jeremy Hunt is another one) don’t understand that they can’t just impose on the rest of us any silliness that pops into their heads.

The law firms who are standing up against Gove’s “shambolic” plans are to be praised. If only the teaching profession had enjoyed the benefit of such expertise when he was education secretary!

Michael Gove’s plans to reform legal aid by cutting the number of solicitors providing services in criminal courts is in tatters after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was forced to postpone a new system of contracts because of a rise in litigation by law firms claiming the entire bidding process was deeply flawed.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) planned to introduce new “crime duty contracts” in January. The MoJ previously said it had concluded a tendering and procurement process which reduced the number of legal aid contracts awarded to firms from 1,600 to 527. A reduction in legal aid work payments was a key part of the reform package.

The LAA claimed 519 of the successful bidders were happy with the new contracts but scores of legal challenges to the way the process has been run have now derailed the scheme. Legal challenges have been launched in 69 out of 85 procurement areas across England and Wales.

Although the MoJ said it “remained committed” to introducing the new contract system “at the earliest opportunity”, it is understood there are serious concerns inside the Treasury that the MoJ faces “expensive and lengthy legal battles” it is likely to lose.

“Michael [Gove] was politely asked to back off and see if a compromise deal could be found rather than risk tens of millions of pounds on risky litigation,” a Treasury source said. “The Treasury has other priorities. This isn’t one of them.”

News of the postponement came as a second LAA whistleblower emerged with serious criticisms of the bid process which he described as “shambolic and unprofessional.”

Source: Legal aid cuts: Plans on hold after law firms challenge new contracts system | Crime | News | The Independent

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