Access to justice is a fundamental principle of democratic societies, which shapes much of our work. Whether it is our work supporting pro bono initiatives, or our campaigning on legal aid deserts, we work tirelessly to ensure the justice system is accessible to all.
In 2016 we completed our own review into the changes to legal aid brought in under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, making 25 recommendations to government. The Ministry of Justice has recently announced that it has commenced its own review of the act, which is due to conclude next summer. We believe that this provides an ideal opportunity for the government to reassess the impact of the reforms.
One area which we believe the government should consider as part of its review is early advice. In October 2017 we launched a campaign calling for the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases.
Early legal advice helps address problems before they escalate. A lack of free early legal advice can cause problems to escalate unnecessarily, potentially increasing the burden on the courts and increasing costs to the public purse. The current system is a false economy, meaning more cases are ending up in court that could have been resolved earlier, and more pressure is applied on our already stretched public services.
New research from Ipsos MORI, commissioned by us, shows a clear statistical link between receiving legal advice early and resolving a problem sooner. Watch a short campaign animation.
Our campaign has been received positively by politicians of all parties and across the media.
The Law Society and our campaign was then referenced 17 times in a parliamentary debate on legal aid provision by members across the political parties.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Justice wrote a comment piece for the Huffington Post mentioning the campaign and has pledged the opposition’s support for one of our policy calls.
At the justice oral questions session in Parliament in December, the Minister Dominic Raab MP faced questions from a cross-party group of MPs including the chair of the Justice Select Committee calling for the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases.
The campaign was mentioned on Radio 4’s Today Programme, in legal sector press and we received coverage online from Buzzfeed to the Guardian.
Over the coming months, we will continue to campaign for the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice, work closely with our members and all key stakeholders, and work with the Ministry of Justice’s review into the implementation of LASPO.