LAPG will present well taken objections to the reform package, based on the impact of the reforms on the interests of clients, sound economic argument and the public interest. To ensure that our arguments have maximum impact, it is vital that we represent as large a proportion of the legal aid profession as possible.
Ministry of Justice’s Post-Implementation Review of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)
The report is an overdue recognition of the crisis in access to justice, triggered by LASPO.
Many of the recommendations for the future are positive, but much more is needed to remedy the legal aid and justice system now.
We particularly welcome the call for restoration of early legal advice, which is something we have been pushing for. Every day LAPG members see the impact of LASPO’s removal of early legal advice, on people whose problems with, say, debt or housing, have spiralled out of control. Often, these are things which could have been solved quickly and easily if they had been able to seek our members’ help earlier. Plans to expand the provision of family legal aid, are a positive way forward but this needs to happen quickly because people are in urgent need.
We welcome the recommendation to end the mandatory nature of the telephone gateway, which was misconceived from the start, and has only served to stop people with special educational needs, debt and discrimination problems from getting access to justice. We are interested to hear how the government will ensure adequate provision of face-to-face in these areas.
The government has committed to review the legal aid means test, which is welcome as the current rules exclude many of those in genuine need. However this needs immediate attention and we urge the government to expedite this aspect of its commitment.
The call for government to mount an awareness campaign is also positive. If done well, that could be a game-changer for those with legal problems and could transform lives, as too many people currently don’t know where they can go for help.
One of the areas where we strongly disagree with the review is with the conclusion that the network of advice providers, whether law firms or advice agencies, is sustainable. That is contrary to all the evidence we provided, which shows providers are struggling to keep afloat, following years of static or reduced fees, and increased bureaucracy. Law Centres and advice centres have closed down and high street legal aid practitioners have pulled out of legal aid. Much more needs to be done now to make sure that we have a justice system for the future.
The report identifies many areas for improvement and we are wholeheartedly committed to working with the government to bring about positive change sooner rather than later.
Jenny Beck and Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon), co-chairs of LAPG state:
‘Whilst we cautiously welcome the recognition that the system is no longer delivering access to justice, we are concerned to ensure that addressing the problems identified could deliver significant improvement. There is a need for solutions to be properly resourced and delivered expeditiously because access to justice is in crisis right now’.
The government released the official legal aid statistic on 13 December 2018, brining the data set up to date to 30 September 2018.
Worryingly, crime expenditure and workload have both decreased. Fewer civil legal help matters have been started, continuing the trend since the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). Mediation cases have reduced and are still under half the number of cases pre-LASPO.
There have been two important increases in applications – in domestic violence cases, where the evidence changes have been brought in, and in exceptional case funding, although these remain well below the expected levels touted by government as necessary for the scheme to be an effective safety net.
Carol Storer, who in November 2018 steps down from her role as Director of LAPG after more than 10 years of service, is amongst the shortlist for the LawWorks 2018 Annual Pro Bono Awards. Carol is a finalist in the Outstanding Contribution to Access to Justice category.
The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony and reception at the Law Society on Monday 3rd December 2018. The annual Awards lecture will be given by Rt Hon David Lammy MP, and the evening will be hosted by Clive Coleman, the BBC’s Legal Correspondent.
Costs firm John M Hayes, great supporters of LAPG’s work over many years, recently climbed Mount Snowden to raise money for access to justice and the London Legal Support Trust. And on top of that, they lugged up copies of LAPG’s Manifesto for Legal Aid! An excellent effort by the JMH team!
Joining the Dots: Domestic abuse, civil and criminal justice and technology
Crest Advisory and CGI have undertaken a partnership research project to identify ways to address the twenty-first century challenges of tackling domestic abuse across the justice system and beyond.
Domestic abuse is a prevalent, high-impact crime with widespread and lasting consequences. Today in England and Wales there are estimated to be 6.5 million adults who have directly experienced domestic abuse, and overall one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. In 2016-17, eighty-two women and thirteen men were killed by a partner or former partner.
They found that the police and criminal courts often lack clear and robust processes for working with the civil justice system. In practice this means that:
basic information is not routinely shared between the police and civil courts
where information is shared, it is not always timely
there is sometimes a lack of understanding among practitioners about what civil orders mean in practice
criminal and civil justice systems do not always take full account of each other’s judgements.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors have successfully challenged the Legal Aid Agency’s refusal to backdate legal aid certificates, even where solicitors have made a legal aid application as promptly as possible and it is necessary to begin work in order to secure access to justice for a client before the Legal Aid Agency has granted a certificate. Their contention in the litigation was that the Legal Aid Agency and Lord Chancellor have failed to recognise that the legal aid regulations must contain an implied power to backdate certificates, or are ultra vires.
In response to that claim, the Government has agreed, in open correspondence, to amend the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 to expressly allow for legal aid certificates to be backdated to the date of application for legal aid.
After 10 years, Carol Storer is stepping down as Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group on 20 November 2018. Under Carol’s excellent directorship LAPG has made a huge contribution as a representative body, despite the difficult economic climate. With skill, energy and dedication Carol has helped LAPG to support legal aid practitioners so that in turn members of the public are able to enforce their rights, thereby ensuring they have access to justice.
The management committee gives sincere thanks to Carol for all she has done.
Thanks also go to LAPG’s Operations Director Chris Minnoch who has agreed to stand in as Acting Director pending the appointment of a new Director.
LAPG will continue to campaign and support everyone providing access to justice in the years to come.