Today the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published, at long last, its post-implementation review of part 1 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
It is nearly six years since LASPO came into effect, and it was not until this review that MoJ would have any meaningful discussions about the cuts and their effect. To MoJ’s credit, despite ‘marking their own homework’ by conducting the review in house and not independently, they have acknowledged some key problems created by LASPO. This is a necessary first step for resolving them.
Some initiatives in the Legal Support action plan are welcome: the intention to review the means test to simplify and broaden eligibility; moving away from telephone-by-default services for vulnerable people; simplifying legal aid's 'safety net' scheme, Exceptional Case Funding; and the intention to pilot new face-to-face early legal advice in social welfare law.
It is unfortunate, however, that MoJ only now decides that it needs further research into key elements of legal aid after six years. It shows lack of interest in improving a system that, from what we do know, is clearly in crisis.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the Law Centres Network, commented:
"Government has cut nearly a third of the legal aid budget, some £751million. The help lost – tens of thousands of cases – could have mitigated against massive welfare reforms, or helped uphold workers’ rights, or prevented the Windrush scandal. In this context, committing a one-off £8million - just 1% of what was lost - to non-legal support, tech development or innovation does precious little to bridge the immediate, yawning justice gap."
Law Centres work hard to broaden access to justice for disadvantaged people. We will study the review in detail and will use our extensive experience to inform future research and influence access to justice policy.
We share government’s concern that legal aid “continues to be available into the future”; however, this should never have come into doubt.