Fresh evidence of emergent ‘advice deserts’ grimly corroborates what the House of Commons Justice Committee found just over a year ago. The civil legal aid reforms enshrined in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act were badly researched and implemented, with seeming indifference to the consequences.
What mattered was saving money, not how it was done. If, indeed, there were substantial savings – little attention was given to the inevitable knock-on costs for courts and councils, so we just do not know.
The government promised a review of LASPO by April 2018, five years on, but the present administration has rebuffed a plea from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to bring that review forward.
That is to be expected, perhaps. But ministers might listen instead to erstwhile colleague Lord McNally – a welcome (though somewhat belated) convert to the cause. McNally it was who actually piloted LASPO through the Lords.
In his partial mea culpa, McNally appeals for cross-party consensus on legal aid, stating: ‘We can all agree that nobody should be denied access to justice.’
One hopes newly minted progressive pinup Michael Gove agrees. Gove has, after all, won deserved praise for disowning the malign legacy of his predecessor, whose commitment to access to justice appeared ambivalent at best. Over to you, lord chancellor.