30 DECEMBER 1972, Page 22

Voluntary legal advice

Sir, I was disturbed to read in Socialities ' (December 23) that the Law Society is considering the withdrawal of their voluntary ccheme whereby half an hour of a solicitor's time can be bought for El, and would wholeheartedly support the opposition of the Citizens Advice Bureau to this proposal.

One of the major shortcomings of the present legal system is that to have effective access to it you need to be either very rich or very poor. Those with incomes above the poverty level but whose resources are nevertheless insufficient to meet the high cost of a lawyer's help are excluded from the main Legal Aid and Advice scheme by stringent means tests. The Law Society's voluntary scheme thus provides an extremely valuable service in meeting the needs of this very large group.

Will, as the Law Society claims, the new scheme make the voluntary scheme unnecessary? Certainly, the £25 scheme is to be welcomed but it is doubtful that it will change the situation sufficiently radically to justify the arbitrary withdrawal of the voluntary scheme. Restrictive and complex means tests will continue to ration access to legal help, indeed the Law Society itself is concerned at the complexity of the proposed regulations. Anyone with a disposable weekly income of over £20 or with disposable capital of over £125 will be excluded from the scheme, though it is possible that these limits will be raised slightly before the scheme comes into operation. Furthermore, anyone with a disposable weekly income of over £11 will be called upon to make a contribution towards costs. The methods for calculating disposable income and capital have not yet been published, but they are likely to be less generous than those used under the Legal Aid since no allowance will be made for rent.

No one can know the effects of the introduction of the £25 scheme until it is actually implemented and evidence is collected of how it is working. Until such evidence is available and in view of the shortcomings of the scheme, the Law Society's assumption that it will cover all unmet needs and obviate the need for the voluntary scheme appears as both rash and dangerous and it should be vigorously opposed by all interested bodies.

Ruth Lister Legal Research Officer, Child Poverty Action Group, 1 Macklin Street, London WC2