Civil legal aid review

Following a campaign by the Law Society, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is carrying out a long-overdue review into the sustainability of civil legal aid.
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The civil legal aid review will focus on ensuring the civil legal aid system:

  • is easy and quick to access
  • encourages the early resolution of disputes (where appropriate)
  • is technologically adept, simplified and flexible
  • upholds the rights of individuals and drives improvements in society for the most vulnerable
  • offers a financially viable business option for legal aid providers (both private and non-profit) and is an attractive career option that attracts a high-calibre workforce

The final report is due to be published in 2024.

The review will cover all categories of civil legal aid, with in-depth analysis on:

  • family
  • housing
  • mental health
  • education
  • discrimination
  • immigration

It'll also consider value for taxpayers’ money for future policy options and includes four work-streams:

  1. economic analysis of the structure of the civil legal aid market
  2. comparative analysis of systems in other countries
  3. a series of data publications
  4. social research of user journeys

Current stage

The MoJ is calling on all interested parties for evidence between 10 January to 21 February 2024.

We’re providing data and evidence to the review.

Stages of the review on civil legal aid

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) carries out research into the civil legal aid market.

In January 2024, the MoJ’s survey results showed that providers cannot make a profit from civil legal aid work and will actively leave the sector in the medium term, meaning that people are unable to enforce and defend their rights:

  • the majority of private practices reported not making a profit from their civil legal aid services
  • 40% said they will actively leave the sector over the next five years
  • 82% are dissatisfied with the fee system
  • 61% are unable to build a quality workforce
  • 59% are dissatisfied with the way the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) makes decisions

Law Society of England and Wales vice president Richard Atkinson said: “The report shows what we already knew, the civil legal aid system is on its knees.”

Read more about the MoJ’s survey findings

What we’re doing

February 2024 – we update our legal aid desert maps on housing, education, immigration and asylum, community care and welfare 

January 2024 – we’ve worked with the MoJ to organise discussion groups so legal aid practitioners can feed in directly to the civil servants carrying out its review on civil legal aid

December 2023 – we invited civil legal aid providers to take part in independent economic research to help us capture the full scale of the sustainability threat facing access to justice

August 2023 – we provided evidence to civil servants carrying out the review and called on the government to provide an urgent cash injection for civil legal aid providers to tide firms over while the review takes place

Why is a review needed?

Across England and Wales, Law Society research shows there are significant advice deserts where people cannot access civil legal aid:

  • 52m people (88%) do not have access to a local education provider
  • 40m (67%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
  • 40% of the population do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice

“Behind each statistic is a child not getting the education they need, a family facing eviction, fighting for welfare benefits to stay afloat in these turbulent times or a person denied a say in how they are cared for,” said former Law Society president Lubna Shuja.

Check if your area is in a legal aid desert

The last time fees were increased was in 1996, over 25 years ago. On top of this, the government imposed a further 10% fee-cut in 2011. This represents a real-terms cut of 49.4% in fees to 2022.

Firms have been forced to abandon their contracts as they can no longer face the financial burden. 

Our view

The Law Society has called for a review of civil legal aid sustainability for a long time, so we are pleased the UK government is finally making it happen.

We also urge the government to use the review to:

  • increase fees
  • reduce bureaucracy
  • examine the scope of legal aid
  • encourage the next generation of legal aid lawyers by making it clear there's a future in this vital public service

Without immediate cash investment, civil legal aid providers are facing an existential crisis.

Over the past decade the number of legal aid firms has nearly halved, while the number of people struggling to represent themselves in the family courts has trebled and court backlogs are ever increasing.

“The people who are affected most by this are families facing eviction, victims of abuse seeking the protection they need or a vulnerable person denied access to the care they’re entitled to,” said Law Society president Nick Emmerson.

“We urge the government to use this opportunity to make meaningful change by investing in civil legal aid to ensure there is a future for this vital public service.”

Law Society analysis suggests that the number of providers starting legal aid work could drop by a third by 2025, leaving many without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.

We have called on the UK government to invest immediately in civil legal aid to shore up access to justice for those in need while the review – which is expected to last two years after its launch in January 2023 – takes place.

Find out why the system needs urgent investment

Find out more about our civil justice work

How we campaigned for a review

We amplify the powerful collective voice of more than 220,000 solicitors by advocating at the highest levels on the issues you’ve told us matter most.

We've been raising your concerns about the state of criminal legal aid at the highest levels, both publicly and behind the scenes

April 2023 – we marked 10 years since the LASPO Act cut legal aid in many areas

December 2022 – we've analysed data that suggests the number civil legal aid providers starting work could drop by a third by 2025

May 2022 – we updated our maps on legal aid deserts in England and Wales

September 2021 – we published our own review on the system’s sustainability, including eight recommendations on what the government should focus on in a formal review

May 2021 – we issued a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency and lord chancellor, over changes to costs assessments that were made without proper consultation

2019 – we published heatmaps to identify places facing legal aid advice deserts for community care, education, housing, immigration and welfare

September 2018 – we submitted evidence to the post-implementation review of LASPO, stressing that legal aid is no longer available for many who need it

June 2018 – our research on the benefits of early legal advice with Ipsos-MORI showed a clear statistical link between people getting early advice and resolving problems sooner

November 2017 – we launch our campaign on early legal advice, which is cited in multiple parliamentary discussions on the future of legal aid

2017 – we first call for an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system, following a 37% drop in the number of providers after massive legal aid cuts were introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)

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