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’s plans to improve access to legal support service.
The action plan included a holistic review of criminal legal aid, which published a final report in December 2021.
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 2019 review has not fundamentally changed 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.
Criminal legal aid fees
In December 2021, the criminal legal aid review’s report proposed a 15% pay increase for criminal legal aid solicitors, echoing recommendations we've raised in our campaigning work.
The guidance on unused material claims was updated in January 2021.
In May 2020, changes were made to the regulations on evidence of both domestic violence and child abuse.
The supporting documents acceptable as evidence of domestic abuse are extended to letters from:
- an independent domestic violence advisor confirming that they are providing or have provided support to A (see schedule 1 (14))
- an independent sexual violence advisor confirming that they are providing or have provided support to A relating to sexual violence by B (see schedule 1 (15))
- an organisation providing domestic violence support services (see schedule 1(17) for full conditions)
The government plans to pilot the expansion of legal aid to cover early advice in a specific area of social welfare law, related to housing.
Exceptional case funding
In January 2021, the government updated its guidance for non-inquests, as part of exiting the EU.
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.
In 2018, the government ran a consultation 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
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 is increasing the support offered by the MoJ and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and has introduced a £3.1m grant to support litigants in person.
In April 2021, the Lord Chancellor published revised guidance on determining who’s eligible for legal aid support.
Regulatory and administrative requirements
In 2020, the government reviewed the regulatory and administrative requirements passed on to legal aid providers, to make sure they’re as streamlined as possible.
Changes will be made via the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.
The Legal Support Advisory Network was set up in 2019 to:
- make use of external expertise
- influence research and evaluation proposals
- consider new research opportunities and collaborations
What we’re doing
- December 2021 – we welcomed proposals to increase pay for criminal legal aid solicitors
- May 2021 – we responded to the independent criminal legal aid review call for evidence – a major review of criminal legal aid led by Sir Christopher Bellamy
- October 2020 – we responded to the government consultation on administrative law
- 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 initial advice on LASPO