Cost of court time highlights need for early legal advice

Properly funded early legal advice saves taxpayers' money, the Law Society of England and Wales said as it published new analysis showing the cost of running a single courtroom for a day is £2,692 - not including legal advice.

"The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) removed a significant chunk of legal aid for early legal advice so cases that would once have been resolved long before court proceedings are now clogging the system," said Law Society president Christina Blacklaws.

"There is growing evidence that providing legal aid for early legal help in housing and family matters is far more cost-effective than denying it.

"More cases are ending up in court because people are unable to get legal advice on the merits of their case at an early stage and are forced to represent themselves.

"We warned of this consequence when LASPO became law and the evidence is now widely available.

"Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can spiral out of control, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services. The apparent financial savings being made by government in the justice system are a false economy."

Christina Blacklaws added: "As we noted in our own LASPO 4 years on' report, the dramatic increase in the number of litigants in person - people who represent themselves in court - has placed a severe strain on the court system.

"Litigants in person can struggle to understand court procedures and their legal entitlements, and cases involving them take longer to resolve.

"This new analysis demonstrates the scale of the savings that could be made by restoring legal aid for early advice. It is in everyone's best interests that legal problems are resolved early to avoid the greater expense of a court process.

"As the government's long-awaited post-legislative review of LASPO is currently underway, we are calling for the restoration of state funding for early legal advice to be considered as part of the review.

Notes to editors

£2,692 is a conservative estimate and does not include the cost of legal representation in a case.

Court statistics show that in 2016-17, 64% of parties in private family law proceedings were unrepresented.

Early professional legal advice is defined as 'within 3 months of the issue first occurring'.

The Law Society launched its campaign for legal aid to be re-introduced for early legal advice - particularly in family and housing law - in November 2017.

    Key findings from research conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Law Society in 2017 include:
  • On average, 1 in 4 people who receive early professional legal advice had resolved their problem within 3-4 months after it had first occurred.
  • However, after 9 months only 1 in 4 of those who did not receive early legal advice had resolved their issue.
  • People who did not receive early legal advice were 20% less likely than average to have resolved their issue at a particular point in time.
  • Early advice is vital in housing law. For example, a lack of early advice for minor disrepair issues can mean issues such as faulty electrics or a leaking roof escalate, potentially creating health, social and financial problems.
  • Early advice is also important in family law, but in the majority of cases is no longer available for family breakdown and child custody, except in some domestic violence cases. Because of this, mediation referrals have plummeted, putting pressure on courts and therefore public finances.

Read the new analysis by the Law Society. The earlier research findings are available here.

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