Tag Archive | "legal aid reforms"

LASPO Review


At last the Ministry of Justice has announced that the government has set the ball rolling on the long-awaited review of its controversial legal aid reforms.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which came into force in April 2013, made savage cuts to the scope of legal aid. Civil legal aid became no longer available for cases involving divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.

At this week’s all-party parliamentary group meeting on legal aid, the justice minister Sir Oliver Heald QC, set out the government’s timetable for the review. A post-legislative memorandum on LASPO will be sent to the justice select committee before May, ahead of a full post-implementation review of the Act to be conducted by April 2018.

Sir Oliver said the government intended to work closely with the sector’s stakeholders over the course of the full post-implementation review in order to inform its conclusions. “We intend to outline our plans in more detail about a review when we present the memorandum to parliament. What we envisage is that the memorandum and review will provide us with a robust evidence-based picture of the current legal aid landscape and how it has changed since LASPO.”

Heald said that the ministry plans to submit a post-legislative memorandum on LASPO ‘as a whole’ to the justice select committee. This process has to be done by May but he said the ministry hopes to do it before then. He added that the memorandum will cover the whole act, including part one. “It will look at how the Act has been affected by litigation, how it was implemented, and will consider the various reviews of legal aid that have taken place since LASPO, by bodies such as the National Audit Office and others,” said Sir Oliver. “This will lead to an initial assessment of the extent to which changes to legal aid met their objectives, which is the test for a post-legislative memorandum.”

He added: “We intend to outline our plans in more detail about a review when we present the memorandum to parliament. What we envisage is that the memorandum and review will provide us with a robust evidence-based picture of the current legal aid landscape and how it has changed since LASPO.” Heald said the government intends to work ‘closely and collaboratively’ with other parties. It will outline more detailed plans about the review when it presents the memorandum to parliament.

Cuts to legal aid have left many without access to justice. One of the effects of reduced legal aid is the rise in the number of litigants in person, which has caused an increase in court delays. The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group. Reductions in legal advice services raise grave concerns about the creation of “advice deserts” and vulnerable people unable to get the advice they desperately need.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘Litigants in person’ (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Figures from the MoJ in October 2016 reveal that in 80% of family court cases, at least one individual had no lawyer.

Posted in Legal AidComments (0)

No appeal


When the Court of Appeal gave the go-ahead for the government’s controversial legal aid reforms by dismissing an appeal by the Law Society and practitioner groups, and refused to extend an injunction suspending the tender process, the Law Society and the Associations said that they would seek to lodge an application with the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and get the application heard Monday of this week.

An injunction suspending the tendering process for 527 duty provider contracts expired after the Court of Appeal refused to extend it until Monday while the Society sought to take its case to the Supreme Court.

Now there has been a change of plan. The Law Society has announced that it has decided not to take its fight to the Supreme Court.

Society president Andrew Caplen said: “Our counsel’s advice is that the recent judgment is robust and an appeal most unlikely to be granted. We have therefore taken the difficult decision not to apply to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal.”
The tender process, which had been suspended since December, has now been reopened and will close at midday on 5 May.

Caplen said the Society had great reservations about the new duty solicitor contractual arrangements and would call on the new government to review them urgently after the election.

He said: “Individual firms will need to make their own decisions on whether to bid for contracts. We will continue to support solicitors throughout the process.”

The Society has issued guidance for firms wishing to set up delivery partnerships.

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Defeat in the Court of Appeal


The Court of Appeal today gave the go-ahead for the government’s controversial legal aid reforms by dismissing an appeal by the Law Society and practitioner groups.

In the words of the judgement: “In view of the rational and lawful evaluation of the consultation responses made by the Lord Chancellor, it was not incumbent on him to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.

The judgment concluded that the lord chancellor was rationally entitled to assess that the “admittedly broad brush approach” he adopted at the end of March 2014 in relation to costs of bidding for duty provider contracts was a reasonable one. On the process of consulting with service providers – the basis of last year’s High Court challenge – the Court of Appeal said “it was not incumbent on [the lord chancellor] to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.”

The Court of Appeal refused to extend an injunction suspending the tender process. The Law Society and the Associations are seeking to lodge an application with the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and get the application heard on Monday. The injunction expires today.

Society president Andrew Caplen said: “The Court of Appeal decision is a devastating blow. We remain concerned that vulnerable people may not be able to obtain legal representation if they are accused of wrongdoing.”

Robin Murray, vice-chair of the CLSA, said; “It is a matter of enormous disappointment that the appeal brought by the Associations and The Law Society has been defeated.” Jonathan Black, president of the LCCSA, said the group was ‘gutted’ by this morning’s decision. He said: “While the appeal court has found the devastating carve-up of solicitor representation is technically legal, we and many others believe it’s immoral. We’ll do everything we can to continue the fight.”

The Legal Aid Agency has issued a statement that: “ Following the Court of Appeal’s decision today that the Duty Provider Contract tender process and consultation are lawful, the Invitation to Tender for those organisations eligible to apply for a Duty Provider Contract will continue on Friday 27 March 2015 and will close at 12 noon on Tuesday 5 May 2015.

“Now that the injunction has been lifted and the tender will continue, and we have set a new deadline for tender applications. The closing date for applications has been amended to maintain an overall nine week tender window for this stage of the procurement process. Work under this contract is now due to start on 11 January 2016.”

There was never much doubt that the lord chancellor would press ahead with his plans if he was successful in the Court of Appeal. This is a subject which is close up and personal after the many rebuffs he has received from appeal courts. Purdah will have been far from his mind. A close run thing, the statutory period for tenders of nine weeks expires just two days before election day. So it will be for the incoming administration whether or not to proceed. The Labour party has said it would abandon the contracts if elected.

The full text of the judgement Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCA Civ 230 can be found at:
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/law-society-v-lord-chancellor-judgment.pdf

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Legal aid reforms and the election


According to the ‘Law Gazette’, lord chancellor Chris Grayling may not be able to proceed with his controversial legal aid reforms, even if he emerges victorious from a challenge heard in the Court of Appeal last week.

The Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are appealing against Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid. Government plans could result in some of the most vulnerable people being denied access to legal representation when they are accused of a crime. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Children denied justice by legal aid cuts


Last Wednesday saw the publication of a scathing report by the children’s commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson.

The report, ‘Legal Aid Changes Since April 2013: Child Rights Impact Assessment’, claims that rights guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are being breached because children are denied adequate legal representation and support. Nearly three-quarters of private family cases involve one or both parties without legal representation. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Judicial review sought


A High Court challenge to the government’s controversial legal aid reforms was heard on 8 and 9 September. The judicial review is sought by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). The action is funded by contributions in excess of £100,000 from members and £45,000 from the Law Society.

The changes being introduced provide for cuts of 17.5% in criminal court fees and reduce the number of duty solicitor contracts for attending police stations and courts in England and Wales from 1,600 to 525. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)


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