Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales
The Government’s green paper sought views by noon on 14 February 2011 on changes to the scope of and eligibility for legal aid in England and Wales. AdviceUK responded - our response is available to download below.
A briefing is also available to download below.
Cuts to scope, eligibility, fees and a telephone 'gateway'
£350m savings will be made by taking out of scope some housing cases (disrepair, unlawful eviction), almost all welfare benefits and debt (except where the home is at risk), education, employment, most immigration and consumer. You will have to pay a contribution if you have £1000 or more in disposable assets and access the service via a single telephone gateway. Providers of legal aid will have their fees cut by 10%, possibly in Autumn 2011. We’ve all become too used to rushing to lawyers and the courts on such matters, say Justice Ministers: We could and should seek alternative methods of resolution or represent ourselves – especially where the problem is of our own making. And besides, there are plenty of voluntary organisations providing free advice on such matters!
Debates are raging and critiques collecting (see i-legal for example or Efua Hirsch's Guardian blog). We won’t attempt to summarise or repeat them here, but we have grave concerns about where the proposed changes will leave people classed as ‘undeserving’ of state help to challenge public authorities, private landlords, the finance industry and employers. While there may be logic in the argument that many social welfare matters should be resolved before the intervention of lawyers and courts, that doesn’t mean that justice is served by leaving advice on such matters to volunteers (no disrespect to volunteers intended). Voluntary provision could be all that is left, if anything, in some areas after local and national spending cuts.
Campaign Against the Cuts
AdviceUK is part of the Justice for All campaign.
A key campaign strategy will be bringing the effects of the cuts to the attention of local MPs and councillors. Encourage your clients to do this too.
The Justice Select Committee called for evidence in relation to the legal aid Green Paper in late 2010. The Committee will look at and hear evidence in February 2011. The Committee could play a key role in the proposals and the passage of a resulting Bill. AdviceUK and several members submitted evidence to the Committee. Download the AdviceUK submission below.
The My Legal web site is also a source of useful campaign resources and information about the cuts for the general public.
AdviceUK member, Mary Ward Legal Centre, has produced a briefing for MPs - download this below.
Summaries of proposals
In addition to the briefing that you may download at the bottom of this page:
The Law Society has produced a summary of the proposed reforms. Click here to download.
A summary is also available on the Ministry of Justice web site, including a consultation questionnaire. Click here to visit the MoJ web site. If you fill this in, or submit a response by other means, please send us a copy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The legal aid Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, heard concerns from wide range of representative bodies on 16 November. He did confirm that civil legal aid contracts, many of which, ironically, commenced on the day the green paper was published, will run until 2013. However, that doesn’t mean that no changes will be made to scope and eligibility before the contracts expire. Primary legislation will be needed to change scope and eligibility. If that is introduced quickly, holders of contracts to deliver social welfare law bundles may see their packages of integrated, seamless advice – until now seen as the essential new way – reduced drastically. (Oh, and there will be no more CLACs or CLANs, by the way.)
The Minister accepted the need to look across the board at social welfare advice and how it is funded by central and local government. AdviceUK is minded to back calls being made by Legal Action Group for a Commission on social welfare law advice.
The Minister and officials had no answers to questions about the future of Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes and precisely how services would be commissioned or organised in future. These are questions we should raise in our responses, he suggested. However, he did foresee price competitive tendering in future for civil legal aid contracts. That would put an end to the Judicial Reviews, he said. There would probably be one monopoly supplier of the telephone gateway – Citizens Advice has been and will be positioning itself for that slot. The much reduced pool of face to face advice providers will be drawn from those who provide it at lowest cost. Quality? That’s the concern of regulatory bodies, not the Ministry.
The Minister also attended an All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid on 24 November. Notes will be available shortly on the APPG web site.
Comments on the paper and contributions to AdviceUK’s response are welcome. E-mail us.
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