Article in the Journal

DEPENDENT wives who gave up their jobs to care for their families could be powerless in courtroom battles when a radical axing of legal aid is introduced, a North East lawyer said last night.

Joanne Major, who runs Northumberland-based Major Family Law, claims many women facing divorce proceedings will be left helpless when new legislation is introduced next month.

Government plans will see a shake-up of the legal aid system to cut £350m a year by encouraging people to use mediators rather than lawyers.

Mrs Major said: “It’s not only the poor who will be affected. Last year there were 250,000 people got some form of public funding, that’s going to reduce to 40,000. It’s going to be about the inequality of arms.  You could have a successful businessman, who lives in a nice house in Northumberland, and his wife is married and not working.

“But because she has no income she won’t be able to afford legal costs in the event of a divorce, and her husband is able to get the better representation.

“It’s not just housewives, it’s those on maternity leave, people who are self-employed and people who are starting up their own businesses. People will be powerless.”

Under new proposals due to be enforced in April, legal aid will be restricted in a range of civil cases to cut a current £2bn bill. The Ministry of Justice said funding would still be provided to those who most need it, but the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, has criticised the plans.

It means people involved in a range of disputes, such as social welfare debt, employment, family problems, clinical negligence, divorce and housing problems will no longer be allowed legal aid.

Funding will continue for some cases including family law involving domestic violence or forced marriage and debt and housing matters where someone’s home is at immediate risk.

Mother-of-two Mrs Major, who lives in Ponteland, said the changes could see court bills rise as litigants are forced to represent themselves in court.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Legal aid will continue to be provided to those who most need it, such as where domestic violence is involved, where people’s life or liberty is at stake or the loss of their home.”