SHADOW Home Secretary Yvette Cooper came to Runcorn to meet lawyers worried about Government cuts to legal aid as part of reforms to save £350 million a year.

The changes mean some cases are no longer eligible for public funds, such as divorce, child contact, welfare benefits, employment, clinical negligence and housing.

Her visit on Friday followed the collapse of a complex fraud trial in London when a crown court judge halted proceedings because defence barristers refused to represent defendants in protest at 30 per cent cuts in legal aid fees.

Yvette Cooper listened to solicitors in Palacefields Comnmunity Centre as they outlined their concerns.

They fear contracts, such as rotas to provide duty solicitors in police stations, will be awarded to big city law firms, as many Halton legal practices do not have sufficient staff to bid for the work.

They say people who cannot afford legal fees are being forced to represent themselves and often struggle without expert knowledge.

Yvette Cooper said: “I think a big concern is that you end up losing local justice, losing firms and solicitors who understand the local area and have connections and can make sure people have the proper legal representation they need.

“Our justice system is really important. It should not be undermined by these ill thought through changes.

“I don’t think it should be driven by ideology, it should be driven by practical ideas that work.

“If people are forced to defend themselves, complex cases can take much longer. It is bad for all of us to get justice because courts get clogged up.

“I am very concerned about the effect these cuts are having, especially on domestic violence cases.”