Early legal advice
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) introduced funding cuts to legal aid, meaning fewer people can access free legal advice.
Since 2012, legal aid has no longer been available for early advice, including housing and family law.
Without legal aid for early advice, legal problems can escalate unnecessarily and cause issues such as poor health, debt and homelessness.
As a result of escalating legal problems, a lack of early legal advice can increase taxpayer costs and the burden on the courts.
Backlogs in the courts mean that children who’ve been removed from their parents by the state are having to wait an average of 46 weeks to get a final decision on where they will live, according to data from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).
We believe the government should reintroduce legal aid for early advice from a lawyer for family law cases to help parents better understand their rights and their options for resolving issues involving children.
“The government is focused on introducing mandatory mediation in family cases as the way to solve the backlogs in the courts, but mediation is not always appropriate,” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.
"Early legal advice means separating couples can get the guidance they need to identify the solution that works for them – solicitors can assist in negotiating settlements or refer them to mediation where appropriate.”
What this means for solicitors
“The entire family courts system is creaking after years of austerity cuts and neglect,” said Cris McCurley, a member of our Access to Justice Committee.
“As a practitioner it is heartbreaking to have to deal with the consequences of this and I worry about the effect on children, some of whom have not seen their primary carer parent for more than three years. There needs to be investment in the system, now.”
Following our calls to reintroduce legal aid for early advice, the government is running a pilot project to expand legal aid to cover early legal advice for housing, plus debt and welfare benefit matters – previously removed from scope for legal aid under LASPO.
The first pilot phase ran in Manchester and Middlesbrough from 31 October 2022 to 31 March 2023, with a small number of providers.
Unfortunately, not enough clients took part to test the new system effectively – seemingly due to an over complex referrals process.
The government is currently reviewing its methods for the pilot. We expect an announcement about the next stages later in 2023.
In the meantime, we've come up with some fresh ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will enhance access to justice and could save the system £72 million over a five-year period.
- October 2023 – we publish a green paper exploring long-term ideas to improve access to justice
- August 2023 – we call on the government to restore early legal aid in family cases and for interim funding for early advice while the Ministry of Justice carries out its review of civil legal aid
- March 2023 – we urge greater funding for early advice for divorcing couples in our response to the government's proposals on compulsory mediation in family cases
- February 2019 – the government reviewed the legal aid changes in LASPO and published a Legal Support Action Plan, and announced plans to pilot expanding legal aid to cover early legal advice in an area of welfare law related to housing
- November 2018 – several MPs mentioned our campaign and its key arguments in a parliamentary debate on the future of legal aid
- June 2018 – we presented the results of the research we commissioned from Ipsos MORI to the UCL Access to Justice and Legal Services Conference. Download the presentation slides
- June 2018 – over 1,000 members wrote to their local MP or the Lord Chancellor about our campaign
- February 2018 – we held an event in parliament to update MPs about our early advice campaign and 20 MPs showed their support for our campaign recommendations
- January 2018 – our campaign was mentioned in ‘Justice Oral Questions’ in parliament and in oral questions throughout 2018 and 2019
- December 2017 – the shadow secretary of state for justice mentioned our campaign in the Huffington Post
- November 2017 – our campaign was mentioned on Radio 4’s Today programme, in legal press and we received coverage online on Buzzfeed and The Guardian
- November 2017 – we published research from Ipsos MORI which shows a link between receiving professional legal advice early and resolving a problem sooner. Read the research report
- November 2017 – we launched our campaign
If you’re an MP, you can:
- write to the lord chancellor to call on the government to reintroduce legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases
- table parliamentary questions to gather evidence of the benefits of reintroducing legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases
For more information, email email@example.com.