Legal Aid moves threaten justice

Dozens of leading barristers have warned that the Government's legal aid reforms will threaten the public's "practical access to justice".

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, 90 QCs condemn the proposals to restrict the judicial review process, claiming it will "seriously undermine the rule of law".%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Among those who have signed the letter are Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and Cherie Blair, who practices as a part-time judge under her maiden name Cherie Booth.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled changes last month, aimed at dealing with the soaring number of applications for judicial reviews - court proceedings in which a judge reviews the legality of a decision or action made by a public body.

The Government will ban people from seeking a hearing in person if their initial written application has been ruled as totally without merit.

It will introduce a £215 court fee for anyone seeking a hearing in person after their initial written judicial review application has been turned down, and will also cut the time limit for applying for a judicial review of a planning decision from three months to six weeks.

"We are gravely concerned that practical access to justice is now under threat," the letter says. "The cumulative effect of these proposals will seriously undermine the rule of law, and Britain's global reputation for justice.

"They are likely to drive conscientious and dedicated specialist public law practitioners and firms out of business. They will leave many of society's most vulnerable people without access to any specialist legal advice and representation." It went on to urge the Government to withdraw the proposals.

Announcing the changes, Mr Grayling said: ''Judicial review should be used by people who have carefully considered whether they have proper grounds to challenge a decision. We are changing the system so it cannot be used any more as a cheap delaying tactic.''

Judicial review applications rose from 6,692 in 2007 to 11,359 in 2011 - but just one in six were granted permission to proceed beyond the earliest stages, the Ministry of Justice said.

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Legal Aid moves threaten justice

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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