The Law Centres Network (LCN) is among several membership organisations that are jointly calling on all legal aid practitioners to take part in the 2021 Legal Aid Census.
The Census has been created by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) with the aim of gauging the sustainability of the sector. The unique survey will allow those working on the social justice frontline to share their backgrounds and lived experiences, evidencing the current state of the sector.
Such an inquiry has never been more vital as years of underfunding and cuts to the justice system have led to an access to justice crisis. Currently, only just over 2000 organisations across England and Wales hold a legal aid contract, half as many as in 2013. The ongoing reduction in providers over the past decade invariably reduces the public’s access to legal advice. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis.
The government has been remarkably incurious about the extent of this problem, collecting precious little evidence to assess the current state of legal aid. Even the collection by legal aid commissioners of data about the public’s legal needs and how well they are met was discontinued in 2012. As a result, there remains a lack of information about the people and organisations providing legal aid and their true state as top-level figures show their numbers dwindling.
By collecting such data and more with the legal aid census, the aim is to have enough information to make well-evidenced practical recommendations that will aid the short-to-medium term recovery of the access to justice sector.
The evidence collected will be released along with a research report later this year. The report will also be submitted to the Treasury’s Spending Review, as well as to the two current reviews of civil and criminal legal aid sustainability.
The report will also complement the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid's inquiry into sustainability of the sector, which completed its oral evidence sessions in March 2021 and is expected to report in September 2021 with a series of practical recommendations to help legal aid providers recover from the impact of the pandemic.
The survey is open to anyone who works in legal aid, aspires to work in legal aid or has previously worked in legal aid. It will run for two months from 12 April 2021 to 11 June 2021. Other supporters include Shelter, Housing Law Practitioners Association, Legal Action Group and the Black Solicitors Network.