Civil legal aid review
The review will focus on ensuring the civil legal aid system:
- is easy and quick to access
- encourages the early resolution of disputes (where appropriate)
- is technologically adept, simplified and flexible
- upholds the rights of individuals and drives improvements in society for the most vulnerable
- offers a financially viable business option for legal aid providers (both private and non-profit) and is an attractive career option that attracts a high-calibre workforce
It will encompass all categories of civil legal aid, with in-depth analysis on:
- mental health
It'll also consider value for taxpayers’ money for future policy options.
The final report is due to be published in 2024.
We’re calling on the justice secretary, Alex Chalk KC, to urgently invest £11.3 million to stop legal aid from vanishing while the review takes place.
The review starts with an external economic analysis of the civil legal aid market, to better understand how people facing civil and family legal issues access funding and support.
Why is a review needed?
Across England and Wales, Law Society research shows there are significant advice deserts where people cannot access civil legal aid:
- 52m people (88%) do not have access to a local education provider
- 40m (67%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
- 40% of the population do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice
“Behind each statistic is a child not getting the education they need, a family facing eviction, fighting for welfare benefits to stay afloat in these turbulent times or a person denied a say in how they are cared for,” said immediate past president Law Society president Lubna Shuja.
The last time fees were increased was in 1996, over 25 years ago. On top of this, the government imposed a further 10% fee-cut in 2011. This represents a real-terms cut of 49.4% in fees to 2022.
Firms have been forced to abandon their contracts as they can no longer face the financial burden.
“The Law Society has called for a review of civil legal aid sustainability for a long time, so we are pleased the UK government is finally making it happen,” said Lubna Shuja.
“Over the past decade the number of legal aid firms has nearly halved, while the number of people struggling to represent themselves in the family courts has trebled and court backlogs are ever increasing.”
Without immediate cash investment, civil legal aid providers are facing an existential crisis.
Law Society analysis suggests that the number of providers starting legal aid work could drop by a third by 2025, leaving many without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.
“We urgently call on the UK government to invest immediately in civil legal aid to shore up access to justice for those in need while the review – which is expected to last two years – takes place.”
We also urge the government to use the review to:
- reduce bureaucracy
- examine the scope of legal aid, and
- encourage the next generation of legal aid lawyers by making it clear there's a future in this vital public service
What we’re doing
December 2022 – we've analysed data that suggests the number civil legal aid providers starting work could drop by a third by 2025
May 2022 – we updated our maps on legal aid deserts in England and Wales
September 2021 – we published our own review on the system’s sustainability, including eight recommendations on what the government should focus on in a formal review
May 2021 – we issued a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency and lord chancellor, over changes to costs assessments that were made without proper consultation
September 2018 – we submitted evidence to the post-implementation review of LASPO, stressing that legal aid is no longer available for many who need it
June 2018 – our research on the benefits of early legal advice with Ipsos-MORI showed a clear statistical link between people getting early advice and resolving problems sooner
November 2017 – we launch our campaign on early legal advice, which is cited in multiple parliamentary discussions on the future of legal aid
2017 – we first call for an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system, following a 37% drop in the number of providers after massive legal aid cuts were introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)
If you’re a legal professional, we’d like you to share examples of the damage that legal aid deserts have caused in your local area.
Share your views and experiences about working as an advocate or as an instructing solicitor within the civil legal aid system.
As part of the review, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) commissioned IFF Research, an independent social research agency, to carry out research into the civil legal aid advocacy system.
This research aims to help the MoJ better understand what is working well, and less well, in the legal aid system, and to support the system going forward.
Discussion will last between 45 to 60 minutes, and can take place at a time convenient to you via Microsoft Teams, Zoom or telephones
To take part, email LegalAidStudy@iffresearch.com with two potential times you are available for an interview between 6 November and 8 December 2023.