Law Society Access to Justice Review
The Law Society the body that represents solicitors in England and Wales, has launched an interim report to address the major issues that impede access to justice. It seeks to examine the current situation, explore eligibility and scope for legal aid and looks at possible alternative funding options, procurement and delivery models. The closing date for comments was 30 June. AdviceUK submitted a response, which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
The report, to which AdviceUK contributed, considers issues that impede access to justice and concentrates on legal aid. It comes at a time when the future of legal aid is in the balance. A new Government is around the corner and recent reports by Sir Ian Magee and Lord Justice Jackson have commented on legal aid governance and civil costs.
The Law Society report identifies many problems with current access to justice. Among those referred to are remuneration for lawyers and problems with controlling legal aid costs when many of the cost drivers are beyond Legal Services Commission and Ministry of Justice control. Cost drivers include those documented by AdviceUK in It's the System Stupid! and current work in Nottingham - failure demand and systemic waste. The complexity of the law and changes in law and Government policy are also cited. The report also notes the complexity of legal aid and bureaucracy as cost drivers and comments on the low morale in the legal advice sector. The system, it states, is at breaking point.
The report goes on to look at specific issues with legal aid eligibility and scope and options for future funding. These include legal expenses insurance cover, contingency fees and trade unions and membership associations, repayable loans and flat-rate contributions. The Contingency Legal Aid Fund (CLAF) idea whereby damages and fees are paid into a central fund that could pay for other action is dismissed - the Society believes it will not assist access to justice. Extendable legal expenses insurance is considered worth exploring. Incentives to take out such insurance, such as tax breaks, would be needed. Pooling the interest that accumulates on solicitors' client accounts is considered, but the Society consludes that this would result in consumers subsidising legal aid. The polluter pays principle, including the idea of a surcharge on public bodies whose actions or failures cause people to seek legal advice and remedies whould be explored further.
Delivery methods are examined. Time Well Spent, the report by the Council on Social Action, is referred to. Alternative delivery models are outlined. A non-means tested triage facility, similar to that operated in Holland, is given considerable examination and afforded an Appendix. The low-cost lawyer consultation model operated by Bristol Law Shop is also noted.
Problems with the current legal aid procurement system are documented. The focus on inputs and outputs rather than outcomes is lamented. Various options for the future are put forward, including establishing an independent body to set legal aid rates, redrafting the legal aid contract and clients applying directly to a legal aid authority for funding - and then choosing their supplier.
Appendix Three notes work by AdviceUK and nef on commissioning. It's a pity that AdviceUK and our members are not properly credited in Appendix Two!
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