Time and again government ministers say they are listening when it comes to formulating policy in an environment of austerity.

At a press conference on the day that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was published, the prime minister David Cameron said he was proud to lead a listening government.

‘I don’t make any apology for listening as you go along and making sure that you get things right… Being strong is about being prepared to admit that you did not get everything right first time,’ he said.

Yet, in respect of its proposed legal aid reforms, the government is plainly not listening - not even to those people who might be supposed to be on its side.

The Ministry of Justice received over 5,000 responses to the consultation on its plans to restrict the availability and delivery of publicly funded legal advice, with only 3% supporting them.

While it is perhaps predictable that the MoJ felt able to ignore representations from the legal profession, the fact that it also seems to have taken no notice of the views of public bodies close to government is extraordinary.

The NHS Litigation Authority, the body responsible for handling claims against the NHS, told the government to retain legal aid for clinical negligence cases.

It warned that its plans to scrap legal aid for such cases would ‘massively’ escalate NHS legal costs and leave some seriously injured people unable to bring claims.

The MoJ did not listen.

The National Audit Office warned that the legal aid reforms would threaten the sustainability of law firms and in some areas lead to increased administrative costs that could negate any potential savings.

The MoJ did not listen.

Even the Legal Services Commission warned that the fee cuts could lead to ‘market failure’ and the premature exits of firms from the market.

It said the changes to legal aid, coupled with the planned expansion of telephone advice services and price competition, risked ‘adverse impacts’ on clients and access to help, particularly given the vulnerability of the not-for-profit sector.

Drawing perhaps on last year’s collapse of immigration provider RMJ, the LSC said that where there had been isolated cases of firms closing, it had been able to redistribute their work to minimise the impact on clients.

But the LSC warned that it would not be able to cope in the event of a ‘significant market failure’ without impacting on clients’ interests.

The MoJ did not listen.

The last fortnight has seen the closure of two large not-for-profit advice providers - the Immigration Advice Service and Law For All.

Both blamed legal aid fee cuts for their demise. Law For All also cited LSC bureaucracy.

In a statement posted on the firm’s website, the trustees for Law For All said: ‘These factors, combined with current plans by the government to cut legal aid payments by a further 10% this autumn, and to almost completely end legal aid in October 2012, have led the trustees reluctantly to conclude that there is no hope of a viable long term future.'

This cannot have been an easy conclusion for the trustees to come to, as the firm assists around 15,000 people a year and employs 50 lawyers.

This could be the start of the market failure that the LSC warned the government about. So is the MoJ going to listen?

It seems not.

Following the news that Law For All had gone in to administration, an MoJ spokesman trotted out the usual – and highly misleading - line about England and Wales having one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.

It said: ‘We were disappointed that Law For All decided to go into administration. Whilst we do not yet have the full details of the decision, it cannot be a direct consequence of our proposed reforms because these reforms will not be implemented until late next year.’

No heed paid to the reasons for its closure; no indication of a policy reassessment; no hint of a delay to the planned fee cuts in the interests of vulnerable people.

How many more warnings does the government need and how many more firms need to conclude they have ‘no hope of a viable long-term future’?

Messrs Cameron, Clarke and Djanogly may well say they have been listening - but they need to start hearing, and more importantly start acting, before it is too late.

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