The government’s promised review of the LASPO Part 1 is now underway. The review will include other legal aid changes introduced since 2013 including the Transforming Legal Aid initiatives and changes to criminal legal aid.
For civil legal aid, the swingeing scope cuts introduced by LASPO have had major impacts on clients, as whole swathes of family and social welfare law have been taken out of scope. Even services remaining in scope have in some areas become more difficult to access because of the growth of advice deserts which have arisen where providers have found provision of legal aid to be unsustainable. The stringency of the means test, the mandatory telephone gateway and the complexity of the Exceptional Case Funding application process have also created barriers to obtaining legal aid.
In anticipation of the government review, last year the Law Society published its own review, Access Denied? LASPO Four Years On. This report highlighted the main problems created by LASPO and made 25 recommendations for reversing the most damaging consequences for access to justice. Several of the major recommendations have also been taken up by our Access to Justice campaign. These include the highlighting of advice deserts, particularly in housing, the need for restoration of early advice and the need to urgently review and update financial thresholds for the means test which is leaving people living below the poverty line either financially eligible or unable to afford contributions.
The campaign has had some positive impacts such as the Labour party adopting as policy our recommendation for restoration of early advice for family law. The MoJ also appears to have taken note of our argument that abolition of early advice was a false economy that creates additional costs to the State elsewhere. Some of our other recommendations have already been implemented such as a reduction of the evidential burden on applicants for obtaining legal aid via the ‘domestic violence gateway’.
The Law Society is one of many stakeholders engaged in dialogue with the MoJ regarding the review. The MoJ is taking evidence until the end of September with the intention of publishing their findings by the end of the year. The Society’s main submission will be our ‘LASPO 4 Four Years On’ report, but we are seeking views directly from members on the impact of LASPO on them and their clients.
We are holding a series of regional focus groups to discuss these issues towards the end of August and into early September. There are still some places available. See further details of the focus groups.