Last month, local MP Alex Cunningham raised concerns about changes to Legal Aid provision in his constituency. Alex wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice as well as the Chair of the Legal Services Commission, Sir Bill Callaghan, and this week received responses to both these letters. Commenting on these responses, Alex said:
“I am not happy with the answers I’ve received. The Minister told me responsibility for Legal Aid Contracts lies with the Legal Services Commission and failed to address my specific concerns about provision for my constituents.
The Legal Services Commission did not acknowledge my concerns that Legal Aid provision is being withdrawn from Billingham, stating that ‘the Stockton-on-Tees Procurement Area is relatively small and good public transport links exist across it’. This response is not good enough. People in Billingham should be able to access Legal Aid in their own town, without the inconvenience and expense of travelling to Stockton. This will put elderly and vulnerable people off accessing Legal Aid provision which is very sad for justice in our community.
The only glimmer of hope is that the tender process is not yet complete and an appeals process is underway. I hope that the Legal Services Commission will think again and award a contract that will serve people in Billingham.
I have written to the Law firms that originally contacted me about this issue, asking if they think there is anything more I can do to help. I intend to raise this matter once again with the Minister and argue the case that this change disadvantages local people in Stockton North.”