Urgent action needed to address legal aid crisis

The House of Commons Justice Committee yesterday (16 November) published the government’s response to its report on the future of legal aid.

“The Ministry of Justice needs to take urgent action to address the crisis in our legal aid system,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“While the funding commitments announced in the budget were a welcome step in the right direction, much more investment is needed to ensure legal representation is available to those without the means to pay for it.

“The civil and criminal legal aid markets are both on the brink of collapse, the courts are drowning in ever-increasing backlogs, the situation is acute. The government needs to address this with the urgency it requires.

“A review of civil legal aid sustainability has long been promised and the government refers to work going on internally, but what we need is the publication of a clear timeframe, terms of reference and active engagement with the profession.

“Our analysis revealed catastrophic legal aid deserts across the country, and we would like to see some specific proposals to address this and ensure people on lower incomes who face overwhelming legal issues from domestic abuse to homelessness can get the expert legal advice to which they are entitled.

“We look forward to seeing the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid and the government’s response to it, as well as the Legal Aid Means Test Review, and hope they will result in substantive progress in tackling the problems which blight our legal aid system.

“While we understand the Ministry of Justice is awaiting the reports, we share the Justice Committee’s disappointment that there is not more substance in its response.

“We are disappointed the government has rejected the idea of judges - who have seen the individual concerned and have developed an informed judgement on their need for representation to get justice - being able to direct that exceptional case funding (ECF) should be granted.

“ECF continues to fail those for whom it is supposed to be a safety net.”

Notes to editors

Read the Justice Committee report

Read the government response and Sir Bob Neill’s letter

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