Legal aid scheme could worsen social exclusion for mentally ill

    The government could undermine its own goal to tackle the social
    exclusion of people with mental health problems if it goes ahead
    with plans for a new fixed fee scheme for legal aid work, mental
    health lawyers warned this week, writes Lauren

    The Mental Health Lawyers Association said that proposed changes
    to the payment system, due to be announced before the end of the
    summer, would only serve to worsen the situation of people the
    government had itself acknowledged were already missing out on
    legal support (news, page 8, 17 June).

    Members expressed strong support at a committee meeting this
    week for a withdrawal of labour if the fixed fee scheme was
    implemented and called for negotiations with the Legal Services

    Association chair Richard Charlton said: “It is a supreme
    and disastrous irony that, at the very moment the government
    announces its policy for tackling social exclusion, it removes the
    tools to do the job.

    “Fixed fees threaten to bring quality, or even any, legal
    assistance to an end. The lawyers to fight social exclusion are
    already drying up and many will be looking to leave under fixed-fee

    A paper published by the association this week says legal aid
    lawyers play a critical role in preventing people with mental
    health problems from becoming isolated and excluded from society
    and save the exchequer money on healthcare, police work and social
    services. However, it claims rates of pay have fallen since 1991
    and the legal aid system is “on the point of

    Commenting on the association’s warnings, a spokesperson
    for the LSC said no decision had yet been made as to whether the
    proposed changes, which would see law firms paid a fixed amount
    based on the fees they claimed this year, would cover mental health
    legal aid work.

    He added that the commission was “surprised and
    disappointed” that the MHLA was calling on its members to
    boycott a fixed fee scheme, adding that it had made it aware that
    the introduction of any compulsory scheme “would be subject
    to a widespread public consultation and that the views of the
    association and its members would be actively sought”.


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