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Westminster weekly update: Legal aid deserts campaign launched

29 April 2019

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

One thing you need to do

Tweet your MP to raise awareness of our new legal aid deserts heatmap, which shows that over a third of the population live in local authorities without a housing legal aid provider.

Five things you need to know

1. Legal aid deserts campaign launched

Last Thursday the Law Society launched a new legal aid deserts campaign by publishing a heatmap which shows the lack of coverage of housing legal aid providers across many parts of the country.

Our analysis of legal aid providers in England and Wales, combined with Office of National Statistics population data, has revealed startling figures for coverage of housing legal aid advice. Our key findings are:

  • over a third (37%) of the population live in local authorities which do not have a single housing legal aid provider
  • 59% of the population live in local authorities which have 1 or no housing legal aid provider
  • more than half of all local authority areas in England and Wales - covering nearly 22 million people - do not have a single housing legal aid provider
  • over three quarters of all local authority areas in England and Wales - covering 35 million people - have just 1 or no housing legal aid provider

The campaign received coverage across a wide range of TV, radio and online media outlets, with BBC Breakfast, BBC News and the Radio 4 Today Programme providing extensive coverage.

2. Campaigns discussed at justice oral questions

Our criminal justice and early advice campaigns were raised with the lord chancellor and his ministerial team during justice oral questions in the House of Commons last Tuesday. The Law Society was mentioned 8 times during the session, as MPs highlighted our concerns.

During the session, Virendra Sharma MP (Labour) raised concerns regarding criminal legal aid fees for solicitors and the impact on young lawyers, and called for a rise in line with inflation for criminal legal aid fees. Teresa Pearce MP (Labour) said there is a crisis in legal aid and quoted data on the number of criminal duty solicitors. Janet Daby MP (Labour) noted the work of the Law Society and highlighted our research on the legal aid means test. Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP spoke about the government's reviews of criminal legal aid fees and the legal aid means test.

Paul Blomfield MP (Labour) raised concerns about early legal advice for welfare cases, and Stephen Morgan MP (Labour) asked about housing legal aid deserts. Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP noted that advice is available through legal aid and elsewhere for welfare claimants, and that the government is exploring early advice in pilots following on from the LASPO review.

Ministers were also questioned on Brexit, court reform and no fault divorce during the session.

3. Ministers questioned on international trade

Last Thursday morning the International Trade ministerial team answered questions from MPs in the Commons chamber.

Michael Fabricant MP (Conservative) asked what steps secretary of state Dr Liam Fox MP is taking to enable service businesses to access overseas markets. In reply, trade policy minister George Hollingberry MP said the government supports market access in services in a number of ways, including through trade promotion and facilitation, referring to the recent Fintech delegation to Singapore. Fabricant followed up with a question on World Trade Organisation (WTO) provisions for services, which Hollingberry answered by noting the WTO rules' deficiencies in dealing with newer sectors and forms of trade, and promising the UK will be a 'champion for change, openness and co-operation.'

SNP international affairs spokesperson Stephen Gethins MP asked the minister what he thought of the prediction that, if the UK were to leave the EU to trade on WTO rules or with a free trade agreement, global trade in services would shrink by 26% and the UK's by a similar amount. In reply, Hollingberry said that services would 'play a large part' in future relationship negotiations.

Mark Prisk MP (Conservative) asked what can be done to encourage more service firms to export, as currently under 10% do so. The minister referred to the joint trade reviews currently being conducted with India, China and Brazil to address access barriers. Shadow international trade minister Bill Esterson MP noted that 'arbitrary' immigration targets were barring service businesses from recruiting necessary staff, and asked why businesses that want to export are being denied access to a 'global talent pool.' Hollingberry replied that many exporting service businesses are growing by establishing footholds overseas, and recruiting locally, therefore immigration barriers in the UK are not relevant. He also said that the Immigration Bill will provide reassurance on skilled service personnel being able to access the UK.

4. Government announces judicial diversity drive

The Ministry of Justice launched a new online education programme last Thursday as part of their programme to improve judicial diversity. The aim of the government funded programme is to support lawyers from underrepresented groups, including solicitors, to become judges.

The programme is the first joint initiative from the Judicial Diversity Forum (JDF) which aims to encourage diversity within the judiciary. The Law Society is a member of the JDF, alongside the judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Judicial Appointment Commission, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and has been involved in the forming of this initiative.

The Pre-Application Judicial Education (PAJE) programme will help lawyers develop their understanding of the role and skills required of a judge, before they apply. It will provide advice to applicants on how to prepare for the next step in their career as well covering a range of topics necessary to being a judge including judgecraft, ethics and resilience.

5. Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill reaches final stages

The Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill continued to go through ping-pong in the House of Lords. The Lords considered an amendment to the Bill made by the House of Commons around defining deprivation of liberty. The Lords accepted the Commons' proposed amendment to the Bill which will mean that those arrangements which amount to a deprivation of liberty will be set out in the code of practice, something the Law Society supported. The new amendment also means there is a duty to review any parts of the code that give guidance to persons exercising functions under the liberty protection safeguards and to lay a report of the review before parliament, initially after three years of the subsection coming into force and then every five years.

Previously there had been amendments to the Bill to insert a prescriptive definition on the face of the Bill which the Law Society was concerned would not be Article 5 compliant. The Bill now awaits Royal Assent.

Coming up this week

Amongst the highlights of this week in parliament there will be a Consitution Committee session on Wednesday, which will see the lord chancellor give evidence. The prime minister meanwhile will be in front of the Liaison Committee on the same day, discussing her Brexit policy.

Dr Marina Brilman, international human rights policy adviser here at the Law Society, will also appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday to give evidence on behalf of the Society on global Britain and South America.

If you made it this far

Find out what the Article 50 extension means for solicitors.

Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at or 020 7320 5858.

Tags: Law Society | Westminster weekly update | legal aid

About the author

Alexandra Cardenas is Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at the Law Society. Public Affairs manages the relationships with parliament and government. She is a dual qualified solicitor in England and Wales (2014), and Colombia (2002). Prior to the Society, she practised as a human rights lawyer and worked at Macmillan Cancer Support and Animal Defenders International.

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