Law Society ponders legal aid innovation fund

Topics: Law Society activity,Legal aid and access to justice

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The Law Society is considering how an innovation fund could help legal aid solicitors harness new technology to improve access to justice.

In a submission to the Labour party’s legal aid review, the Society said there was ‘scope for innovation’ among solicitors to produce ‘bespoke technological solutions that reflect their businesses and meet the needs of their clients’.  

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But there was a ‘question mark’ over whether solicitors could afford the investment required.

‘The Society is therefore looking into whether there might be scope for an innovation fund, whereby grant funders would make grants to firms that have ideas for ways of using technology to improve access to justice,’ the submission states.

Labour is to present the findings of its legal aid review, led by former justice minister Lord Bach, at this year’s party conference.

In its submission to the review, the Society identifies the Partnership Initiative Budget, which operated under the former Legal Services Commission, as a precedent.

‘We are still in the early stages of considering this idea, but our initial thinking is that such a fund might be generated from a combination of private, third sector and public sector sources,’ the submission states.

Welcoming the Court of Appeal’s ruling last month on the lawfulness of rules requiring victims of domestic violence to have a prescribed form of evidence before they can apply for family law legal aid, the Society proposed that solicitors be allowed to ‘certify’ that an individual is a victim of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, alternative approaches to civil legal aid remuneration should also be considered, the Society suggested.

‘We believe it is worth looking again at the fundamental point that legal aid currently works on the basis of paying individually for each of millions of pieces of advice provided,’ the submission states.

‘There is a precedent in the form of the old block contracting system for the not-for-profit sector where the provider was remunerated on the basis of caseworker hours rather than for each individual case.’

Restoring family legal help at the basic fixed fee would address problems around a drop in the use of mediation and increase in litigants in person in the family courts, the Society said.

The Ministry of Justice ‘had not appreciated that solicitors are a major source of referrals to mediation’, the submission states.

The Society said restoring ‘Family Help Level 1’ for early advice would cost an estimated £14m, which could be funded through the shortfall in mediation, which was a civil legal aid underspend.

Readers' comments (7)

  • ‘bespoke technological solutions that reflect their businesses and meet the needs of their clients’

    If we Brexit will this type of Managementspeak be banned? God, I hope so.

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  • rushes off to TM 'Chokeyo'.

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  • The profession should support any proposal that restores public funding for early advice and intervention. I trust that is plain enough English for the Anons.

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  • Well said, Alan, and my first suggestion is to bring back the Green Form Scheme. It was simple, immediate, easy to administer and involves little civil servant input. We owe it to our clients.

    And we owe it to everyone to weed out any abusers.

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  • 'ponders'...the Law society's epitaph.

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  • Will someone please tell the Law Society that solicitors cannot "certify" a person is a victim of domestic violence since solicitor assert evidence rather than make judgments - the latter is the role of a judge.
    I am surprised the Law Society needs to be told that unless it is not lawyers who are thinking up these schemes?

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  • Paragraph 8.7 of the submission states: "Parliament was clear that victims of domestic abuse should have legal aid for family law matters. Yet research from Rights of Women showed that around 38% of the victims of domestic violence who contacted them were unable to produce one of the forms of evidence the MoJ decided to require. We welcome the recent court of appeal judgement which found that the regulation setting out those evidential requirements was unlawful because it frustrated the statutory purpose of LASPO.14 In so far as the regulation imposes a 24 month time limit and does not cater for victims of financial abuse it was declared invalid. To access legal aid a victim should not have to provide prescribed forms of evidence, any test should be open as to how the domestic violence is proved. The test could be markedly improved and the judgement complied with by allowing solicitors to certify that the individual is, in their professional opinion, a victim of domestic violence."

    The submission as a whole is well worth reading, and roundly criticises the Government on many points. Those who criticise the Law Society for apparently doing nothing while the Government limits access to justice should read the submission in its entirety, carefully.

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