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Andy Burnham bids to battle Corbyn by being friend to legal aid lawyers

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Leadership election manifesto of former health secretary calls for a review of recent cuts

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Just when legal aid lawyers thought no-one in Westminster loved them, one of the Labour leadership candidates sends a big bouquet.

Andy Burnham is understood to have outlined several commitments in his as-yet unpublished manifesto that will potentially cheer striking criminal specialists and others.

According to a report yesterday in the blog LegalHackette’s Brief, Burnham is attempting to take on the Jeremy Corbyn challenge by promising to “reverse declining access to legal advice for the low paid”.

Since then, it has been reported on the blog Labour List that the former health secretary is set to commission a review of civil legal aid, which will be led by current Shadow Attorney General and former legal aid minister Lord Bach.

Also on board is likely to be Yvonne Fovargue MP, the former chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid and former chief executive of a local Citizens Advice Bureau.

According to the blog, Burnham, the MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester, will say in his manifesto:

… it is the hallmark of a civilised society that everyone can access justice, defend their rights and receive help in navigating the legal system, regardless of their income. So under my leadership, a Labour government will commission an urgent review of civil legal aid and scrap the unfair system of employment tribunal fees to make sure that everyone can access quality legal advice on social welfare law problems.

Last night the Huffington Post confirmed the chatter, running a piece by Lord Bach which argued that “Andy will bring justice to the many, not just the few” with a review of civil legal aid that will ensure that “Labour’s policies enable everyone to access quality legal advice on social welfare problems at the earliest possible opportunity”.

LegalHackette — which is written by legal affairs journalist Catherine Baksi, who is well-connected in the legal aid scene — points out that some might see Burnham’s motherhood and apple pie statement as a desperate bid to see off the unpredicted barnstorming performance of left-winger Corbyn in the leadership race.

Commentators might also find it ironic that Burnham — who entered parliament in 2001 — was part of a Labour government that did more than its fair share of slashing the legal aid budget itself.