Suffolk: Legal aid cuts threat to county

SWINGEING legal aid cuts of �350million will hit rural communities the hardest, a Suffolk law expert has claimed.

Jonathan Ripman, president of Suffolk and North Essex Law Society, says the changes could force people to travel out of the county to seek legal advice.

The cuts to the Ministry of Justice’s civil legal aid budget, which come into force next year, will remove support for most cases involving housing, welfare, medical negligence, employment, debt and immigration.

Mr Ripman said: “People living in rural communities like Suffolk are having to travel greater distances to access legal aid, that’s the greatest concern.

“Family law is where it’s going to have the biggest impact, divorce is now out of scope. I think it’s quite possible women are going to be stuck in unhappy relationships. We had to fight to keep the funding for domestic violence.

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“The future we have is such a sea change, it’s almost impossible to get your head around where it is going.”

Mr Ripman is among the speakers at a special workshop next month that will explore how Suffolk will cope with less legal aid funding.

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One change is likely to see an increased use of technology – Mr Ripman said those seeking legal aid from next April will have to call a “mandatory telephone gateway”.

“This raises serious concerns about how people access justice,” he added. “There’s no coming into a law firm and a sit down and a cup of tea.

“I think people will be anxious about seeking advice in that way [through technology] and as a result there will be concerns a number of people will be denied access to justice.”

The picture with criminal legal aid is even less clear – a decision on funding is expected next year.

The “Life After Legal Aid in Suffolk” conference will take place at The Marriage Hall, Gotelee Solicitors, 31-41 Elm Street, Ipswich, on Tuesday, September 18, from 2-5pm.

For further information on the conference call 01473 211121.

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