“Legal aid can be the difference between a family staying in a safe home or homelessness, protection from domestic abuse or staying in an abusive relationship. People must be able to access this vital service,“ said Law Society immediate past president Lubna Shuja.
Across England and Wales, people are cut off from legal help with many family, employment, housing and debt problems.
We’re pleased the government launched its long-awaited review on civil legal aid earlier this year.
However, this will not report until 2024. We’re not likely to see any significant changes until at least 2025.
“Services are collapsing now,” said Lubna Shuja. “The public cannot afford to wait until 2024 for investment, if we want to ensure that support is there for those who need it in these turbulent times. “
What this means for solicitors
Since 2013, firms across the country have been forced to close their legal aid departments, leaving millions of people with no provider in their local area.
The number of advice agencies and law centres doing legal aid work dropped 59%, compared to 2012. This created large advice deserts – areas where people entitled to legal aid can no longer get it.
Our data suggests that the number of providers could fall by another third by 2025.
Fresh ideas for the justice system
We’ve come up with some fresh ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will enhance access to justice and could save the system £72 million over a five-year period.
What this means for the public
Without professional legal advice, many people may miss out on the fair outcome they deserve.
From almost a million cases in 2009/10 started by lawyers and advice agencies to help people get the advice they need, this number plummeted to just over 100,000 in 2020/21. (Family and social welfare cases have been especially hard hit.)
At the same time people having to go to court without representation trebled in the family courts.
Since April 2022, the number of welfare providers has fallen by 21%.
Our work so far
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
We’ve supported litigation that has challenged and improved LASPO, such as:
- the domestic violence gateway
- exceptional case funding
- means test and the means test review
Other key successes so far in our campaign include:
- our research on civil sustainability led to a government review of civil legal aid
- removal of the telephone only service in some areas of law
- increased scope for special guardians from 1 May 2023
Following a post-implementation review of LASPO in 2019, the government set out plans to improve access to legal aid, including:
- criminal legal aid review
- domestic abuse
- early legal advice
- exceptional case funding
- family legal aid
- litigants in person
- means testing
- research through the Legal Support Advisory Group
The 2019 review did not fundamentally change LASPO as the basis for providing legal aid.
What we’re doing
We’re continuing to campaign for measures to restore access to justice.
- we're taking the government to court over fair funding for criminal defence
- we've been campaigning on how early legal advice can save money and time by avoiding cases going all the way to court
We’re also planning ahead for a more sustainable future.
- March 2023 – we launched a project to plan for a more sustainable justice system that is fit for the future
- March 2023 – we started a judicial review to challenge the government’s funding decision on criminal legal aid
- December 2022 – we 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
- December 2021 – we welcomed initial proposals to increase pay for criminal legal aid solicitors
- September 2021 – we published our own review on the system’s sustainability
- 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
- 2019 – we published heatmaps to identify places facing legal aid advice deserts for community care, education, housing, immigration and welfare
- 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