Tag Archive | "legal action group"

The need for a review of legal aid

The Legal Aid Act has denied justice to the most vulnerable and must be reviewed. The government is committed to a review after three years but there is mounting evidence that it should come sooner.

On people trafficking, when LASPO came into force, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) didn’t include such claims within a mainstream contract category, instead bundling them into the “miscellaneous” category along with around 20 other types of case. The result is that organisations bringing these sorts of cases are severely limited in their ability to do so. The Lord Chancellor has agreed to conduct an urgent review of legal aid provisions for people bringing compensation claims against their traffickers.

The legal aid cuts have added to the strain on divorcees. Evidence gathered by Citizens Advice shows that nine out of 10 people who have gone through the family courts, under new rules that heavily restrict access to legal aid, suffer strain in their mental and physical health, working lives and finances. The system is not set up to deal with “litigants in person” (LiPs). Of those who chose to be litigants in person, 90% reported a negative impact on their everyday lives.

Three years after the government scrapped legal aid across swaths of civil law, more ‘advice deserts’ are materialising in the sectors that remain in scope. A number of areas have no cover at all. The Law Centres Network said: “Parliament’s intention in LASPO was that the most vulnerable people should still be able to access legal assistance. As evictions and homelessness rise steadily, a decline in housing legal aid uptake suggests that need is not being met.”

The Court of Appeal has upheld a challenge to the government’s changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. The Law Society backed the challenge brought by the Public Law Project. Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “The LASPO legal aid cuts have resulted in radical consequences for access to justice with the worst impact affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society. Survivors of domestic violence should not be subjected to the over-strict tests required by the regulations as they now stand.”

The Low Commission was established by the legal education charity Legal Action Group in 2012 in the wake of the legal aid cuts to develop a strategy for access to advice and legal support in social welfare law in England and Wales. It was set up to examine the impact of legal aid cuts and develop a strategy to help ensure access to justice. It is to be wound up because of a lack of funds.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party last September one of his first acts was to announce an immediate review of legal aid. He said: “I have asked Willy Bach, the former Shadow Attorney General, to undertake an immediate review of the assault on Legal Aid by the Government over the last five years.”

He went on to say: “Even though it is clear that the consequences of Part One of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) are disastrous, the Government refuses to review the way in which the Act is working.”

Corbyn will agree with the 22 signatories, including Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC Chair of the Bar Council and Jonathan Smithers President of the Law Society, to a recent letter in the ‘Guardian’. Short and to the point it said: “We believe the legal aid reforms have had a severe impact on the ability of vulnerable people to access justice since they came into effect on 1 April 2013. We agree with the justice select committee that the cuts have limited access to justice for some of those who need legal aid the most.”

It concluded: “The government has repeatedly said it will carry out a review to assess the full impact of the legal aid changes after three years. Today we call on ministers to fulfil this commitment at the earliest opportunity. We believe it is vital for government to ensure nobody is denied access to justice based on their ability to pay.”

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“Legal services will cease to exist in rural Wales”

Legal services will cease to exist in rural Wales if current trends continue, says the Low Commission.

The Low Commission was established by the legal education charity Legal Action Group in 2012 in the wake of the legal aid cuts to develop a strategy for access to advice and legal support in social welfare law in England and Wales. For the purposes of its inquiry, the Low Commission considers social welfare law to include asylum; benefits; community care; debt; education (including special educational needs); employment; housing; and immigration. The Commission is chaired by the cross-bench peer and disability rights campaigner Lord Colin Low, while their work has been funded by a number of trusts, foundations and City law firms. Read the full story

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Public opposition to legal aid cuts

Public opposition to legal aid cuts is hardening, with fewer than one in four now backing the government’s austerity drive, according to an opinion poll released last week to mark the service’s 65th anniversary.

Since coming to power in 2010, ministers at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have had a clear agenda of wanting to cut the legal aid budget as part of the government’s programme to reduce the public spending deficit. In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 introduced a radical reduction in the type of cases covered by the civil legal aid scheme. Read the full story

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PCT is dead

In another major U-turn, justice secretary Chris Grayling today confirmed that he has abandoned Price Competitive Tendering (PCT). This would have awarded contracts to the lowest bidder and was a central plank of the Ministry of Justice’s cost-cutting criminal legal aid reforms. Read the full story

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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (part 2)

The government is pressing ahead with plans to cut £350m from the more than £2bn annual legal aid bill, despite lawyers’ and campaigners’ opposition. A record response of over 5,000 consultation submissions, universally unfavourable, has produced no U-turn. Under the plans, some 600,000 cases of legal aid in England and Wales will no longer be funded if the full package goes through Parliament. Read the full story

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Legal Aid in the Commons

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert secured a debate on legal aid in the Commons last week. He said it was timely because although the Government consultation, which has received around 5,000 replies, has closed no response has been published. Read the full story

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Best Value Tendering Part 1

Criminal firms have seen the introduction of fixed fee schemes for police work and a standard fee system in magistrates courts following a review of legal services by Lord Carter three years ago. Now the consultations on proposals for competitive tendering by criminal defence work firms have come to an end, Read the full story

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