In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into effect and introduced funding cuts to legal aid, meaning fewer people can access legal advice.
In October 2017, the government announced it would conduct a post-implementation review of the legal aid changes in LASPO.
In February 2019, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published a post-implementation review of part 1 of LASPO. It also published a Legal Support Action Plan that sets out how the government plans to improve access to legal support services.
In 2017, we reviewed the legal aid changes introduced under LASPO and found:
- legal aid is no longer available for many who need it
- those eligible for legal aid find it hard to access
- wide gaps in provision are not being addressed
- LASPO has had a negative impact on the state and society
What this means for solicitors
The outcome of the government’s review will not fundamentally change LASPO as the basis for providing legal aid.
However, the government has proposed some significant developments and initiatives which could improve access to legal aid.
Civil legal aid helpline
Since 2013, legally aided advice for debt, discrimination and special educational needs could only be accessed by telephone. This was known as the Mandatory Telephone Gateway.
The government is changing the requirements so clients can choose telephone advice or face-to-face advice.
The Mandatory Gateway will be removed by spring 2020.
Criminal legal aid fees
The criminal legal aid fee schemes will be reviewed by summer 2020.
The government plans to pilot the expansion of legal aid to cover early advice in a specific area of social welfare law by autumn 2019.
Exceptional case funding
By the end of 2019, the government plans to:
- work with legal practitioners on simplifying the exceptional case funding process, including a possible new emergency procedure
- speed up the process, to make sure people can access funding when they need it
Family legal aid
The government will expand the scope of legal aid to include:
- separated migrant children in immigration cases
- special guardianship orders in private family law
We’re working with government to look at a different way of providing family legal aid.
The government plans to consult on:
- proposals to provide separate guidance for families which sets out the inquest process and legal aid system in plain English
- backdating the legal help means test waiver so that all payments can be backdated to the date of application if a waiver is granted
Legal aid reform
The government will launch a campaign in autumn 2019 to improve awareness of how people can access legal support, including legal aid.
The government will invest up to £5m in innovation, using the LawTech sector, to deliver new legal support services.
A pilot will explore how government can better coordinate and signpost legal support. Legal support hubs will also be piloted, tested and evaluated.
The government will test changes to triage and signposting support offered as part of the civil legal aid helpline.
Litigants in person
The government will increase the support offered by the MoJ and HM Courts and Tribunals Service and increase funding for the Litigants in Person Support Strategy to £3m for the next two years.
The government plans to:
- review legal aid eligibility (means testing) by summer 2020
- extend eligibility for non-means tested legal aid for parents opposing applications for placement or adoption orders
Regulatory and administrative requirements
By the end of 2020, the government will review the regulatory and administrative requirements passed on to legal aid providers to make sure they’re as streamlined as possible.
The government will set up the Legal Support Advisory Network to:
- make use of external expertise
- influence research and evaluation proposals
- consider new research opportunities and collaborations
What we’re doing
- February 2019 - the MoJ published a Legal Support Action Plan to improve access to legal support services
- September 2018 – we responded to the MoJ’s post-implementation review of part 1 and part 2 of LASPO
- April 2018 – we published the legal aid means test report which found the legal aid means test is preventing families in poverty from accessing justice
- March 2018 – the MoJ published the terms of reference for the evidence-gathering stage of the review exercise
- October 2017 – the government published a written statement to parliament announcing the review and a post-legislative memorandum covering parts 1, 2 and 3 of LASPO
- June 2017 – we reviewed the legal aid changes introduced under the act in a report LASPO: four years on
- April 2013 - LASPO came into effect
- March 2013 – we published advice on LASPO