K J Smith Solicitors

The Law Society plans legal aid provision for the rescue of civil justice

Published: 5 July 2017

The Law Society are calling for big changes to civil legal aid provision to help vulnerable people being denied justice, four years after severe cuts left the legal aid landscape in ruins.

In a recently released report, Chancery Lane said that the cuts to legal aid have caused chaos within the courts and costs have been moved to other state agencies, such as the NHS. She believes that this is as a result of spending and eligibility curbs that were implemented through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

A review of the current legislation

Earlier this year, a post-implementation review of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) was put into motion by the former justice minister, Sir Oliver Heald, before being abandoned due to the General Election. The function of LASPO was to remove lawyers from the justice process, which in turn saves £450m each year; however, The Law Society believe that this has created a ‘false economy’ by making people take their problems elsewhere and stopping them from seeking advice at an early stage. It is because of this that the society believes the review should now be re-opened by the newly formed government.

The 25-recommendation-strong report

Law Society President Robert Bourns said: ‘The demographics of legal aid recipients before 2012 clearly indicate these cuts have fallen disproportionately on the most economically deprived and vulnerable members of society. Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to them but also saves taxpayers’ money.

‘Behind the data are hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer obtain legal aid for matters such as family break up, a range of housing problems, challenges to welfare benefits assessments, employment disputes, or immigration difficulties.’

Back in 2015, this committee suggested within one of their reports that the change had meant a large increase in litigants in person, a fall in mediation, reports of ‘advice deserts’ and ultimately, a growing pressure on the courts.

The latest Law Society reportcontains 25 recommendations for reform and restitution and supports wider claims from other relevant bodies, such as the Commons justice committee of MPs.

The full list of recommendations include:

  • Update exceptional funding guidance to reflect right of children to access legal aid
  • Reinstate legal aid for parties involved in Special Guardianship Order applications
  • Review and routinely uprate civil legal aid means test for inflation and cost of living
  • Scrap capital means test for people on means-tested welfare benefits
  • Independently review sustainability of civil legal aid system
  • Commission second housing advice provider in areas with only one
  • Better advertise legal aid availability
  • Delegate power to solicitors to confirm a client is victim of domestic abuse
  • Give frontline domestic violence support bodies power to confirm when individual is victim
  • Scrap deadline for legal aid applications through Domestic Violence Gateway
  • Remove requirement to access debt, SEN and discrimination law through Telephone Gateway; reinstateimmediate access to face-to-face advice
  • Promote civil legal aid advice line and review operator service to examine low level of referrals
  • Reinstate Family Help Level 1 for early advice (estimated cost £14m)
  • Monitor use of mediation and consider further action;  fund MIAMS for a year
  • Simplify Exceptional Case Funding forms and ease approval process
  • Pay solicitors fair fixed fee for completing ECF form whether application is granted or not
  • Review and simplify applications for representation at inquests
  • Improve data collected by courts on LIPs
  • Return to scope early advice for housing benefit, rent arrears and mortgage problems

Proof of the damage that LASPO influences?

Many people have also taken the opportunity to question whether the restriction of legal aid in housing may have been a contribution to the tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.

The report does indeed highlight that many housing cases are not eligible for legal aid, stating that people now have to pay for their own legal advice, conduct a strong representation of themselves or not be involved within the justice system at all. President Robert Bourns added that: ‘There have been reports that tenants of Grenfell Tower were unable to access legal aid to challenge safety concerns because of the cuts. If that is the case then we may have a very stark example of what limiting legal aid can mean.’

K J Smith Solicitors are a team of family law specialists with a vast amount of experience in all aspects of family law. We pride ourselves in taking swift action and always strive to deliver the most positive outcomes possible.

For more information or to arrange a free 45-minute consultation, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke01483 370100 (Guildford), 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield) or 01235 375500 (Abingdon).

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