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Britain restricts free legal help for foreigners

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Foreigners will be banned from claiming free legal representation in civil cases until they have lived in Britain for at least one year, the justice minister revealed Sunday.

Some migrants were using the legal aid system to settle child custody cases despite being in Britain for "extraordinarily short periods of time", Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"It's not about denying people access to justice... it's about achieving the right balance for what you can afford," he told the weekly.

As Britain tries to rein in its budget deficit, Grayling is looking to cut the £1.7 billion ($2.6 billion, two billion euros) legal aid bill by approximately £300 million.

The Sunday Telegraph said Britain's legal aid bill was far higher than comparable countries.

"There are a number of areas where somebody who comes to this country even on a tourist visa can access civil legal aid. We are going to change that," Grayling said.

"There have been examples of people who have come to the country for extraordinarily short periods of time who have had a relationship breakdown and then they end up in our courts at our expense to determine custody of the children.

"This will exclude people who enter the country illegally, who up to now have been able to access our legal aid system in a way I don't think should ever have happened."

Currently there are no residence or nationality restrictions on financial assistance for civil cases.

Grayling said he also wants to curb the use of legal aid in criminal cases, with some top lawyers earning as much as £500,000 a year of government money for defending suspects.

He told the newspaper that nobody whose earnings came from the public sector "should reasonably expect" to top the prime minister's £142,000 annual salary.

The package of measures being unveiled this month will also stop prisoners using legal aid for cases that do not relate to the length of their sentences.

"I am proposing to take legal aid away from prisoners who don't like the prison they are in, or don't like the cell they are in, or don't like a part of the regime," Grayling said.

In a separate move, the minister said he was also planning to change court guidelines after a convicted criminal had his curfew lifted so he could go on holiday to Thailand.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130406/britain-restricts-free-legal-help-foreigners