A year ago today I was ushered into one of the Ministry of Justice’s offices with other journalists, where tables were adorned with boxes of doughnuts and, more importantly, copies of the government’s long-awaited LASPO report - a hefty tome at 289 pages - and a legal support action plan.
So much has happened since that day: we have a new prime minister, a new lord chancellor and justice secretary, and, of course, Brexit. But looking at what’s happened within legal aid since 7 February 2019, time feels like it has moved so slowly.
Not that the government promised it would act swiftly. ‘We are committed to delivering our vision for the long term, however, we acknowledge that this cannot be delivered overnight,’ it said.
Its action plan stated that a review of the legal aid eligibility regime would be completed by summer 2020. On Monday, MoJ officials said they were determined to meet this deadline. But, even if they do, that still won’t translate into more access to justice. We don’t know what the review will find, and any proposals will need to be publicly consulted on. The Law Society pointed out today that the means test has not been adjusted for inflation since 2009.
And there are some things where the ministry could have moved faster. For instance, this time last year, Lucy Frazer, then legal aid minister, said the department wanted to test legal support hubs. MoJ officials were still talking about what these hubs might look like at the start of this week.
Chancery Lane marked today’s anniversary of the LASPO review by reminding the government that the findings of a legal needs survey showed overwhelming public support for legal aid. Simon Davis, president, said: ‘One year on from the LASPO review, the government must follow through on their commitment to reassess the availability of legal aid and give the public the access to justice they so clearly support.’
If the ministry sticks to its timetable, 2020 will be a crucial year for legal aid developments. Let's hope there's plenty to look back on when we get to 7 February 2021.