A move to ease some of the hurdles restricting access to justice for hundreds of thousands of people is a shift in the right direction, the Law Society of England and Wales said today.
Responding to the government’s crucial post-implementation review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said:
“This post-implementation evaluation is long-awaited and comprehensive and represents the first time in over twenty years that we have seen wide-ranging government proposals to improve the system rather than to make further cuts.
“This review is important because legal aid is crucial to ensure that the protection of the rule of law is a reality for all and provides a lifeline for the vulnerable with social welfare law problems.
“Successive governments have restricted access to justice and the most severe constraints were implemented in April 2013 when - as part of the LASPO reforms - hundreds of thousands of people became ineligible for legal aid. The sweeping cuts have had a detrimental impact on wider society. They have led to growing numbers of people representing themselves in court and increased pressure on wider public services.
“The Law Society contributed heavily to the Ministry of Justice’s evidence gathering process ahead of the publication of this vitally important review.
“The proposals reflect a considerable number of the recommendations we put forward. The Ministry has accepted the case for changes in relation to the legal aid means test, exceptional case funding and early legal advice, and has committed to further work as to what those changes should look like. There are also to be specific changes immediately in relation to migrant children, special guardianship orders and the telephone gateway for discrimination, debt and special educational needs. There is much to be welcomed.”
Christina added: “We hope these changes will make it easier for ordinary people to qualify for legal aid and access essential help and support.
“However, welcome as this further work is, the government must give urgent attention to amending the means test thresholds because the current levels are preventing families in poverty from accessing justice; and remuneration rates for solicitors undertaking this vital work must be reviewed for civil as well as criminal work, to address the medium term viability of the system. As a first step, they should be uprated in line with inflation ahead of further work to make the system sustainable.”
Christina Blacklaws said: “If people cannot access advice or protect their rights, then effectively those rights do not exist. The proposed plan signals hope that fewer people will be denied justice simply because they cannot afford it.
"We support the government’s proposal to improve access to justice through better use of technology. The proposed technology fund indicates a recognition that securing commercial funding for access to justice solutions continues to be challenging.
“We look forward to working with the government as they put these proposals into action.”
Notes to editors
The Law Society of England and Wales published its own reckoning of LASPO Access denied? LASPO four years on in June 2017.
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