Unintended consequence of legal aid reforms
Legal aid was introduced in England and Wales in 1949. In 2009 this system
cost £2.1bn with over £900m being spent on civil legal aid.
As part of the government-wide public expenditure cuts to reduce the UK
deficit, the Ministry of Justice must save £2bn per annum from 2014-15.
To help achieve this fiscal target, the department is proposing substantial
reforms to the legal aid system to deliver savings of £450m per annum.
The largest saving (of £270m, net) is to be generated by removing
significant categories of law from the scope of legal aid.
In order for these savings to contribute to reducing the fiscal deficit the
reforms must not generate substantial knock-on or consequential costs to the
However, the government's own impact assessment indicated
that the reforms could generate knock-on costs including reduced social
cohesion, increased criminality, reduced business and economic efficiency,
increased resource costs to other departments, and increased transfer
payments from other departments.
As reported by the Justice Select
Committee and acknowledged by the Ministry of Justice, the magnitude of
these knock-on costs has not been estimated.
The research's aim was to identify the potential impact of the reform to legal
aid scope on the public purse, focusing in particular on the areas of law
expected to generate the largest savings: family law, social welfare law and
To achieve this aim, data from the Civil and Social
Justice Survey were combined with data from the Legal Services
Commission, and publically available data to understand the potential impact
of the reforms.