Lawyers and politicians have questioned whether the government will be able to complete its long-awaited review of controversial legal aid reforms by this summer as promised.
The Ministry of Justice's post-legislative memorandum, published in October, stated that the department aimed to publish its review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 by summer this year. The ministry said it intended to 'work collaboratively with key parties' across the sector to inform its finding of how well the act has worked in practice.
Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, told an all-party parliamentary group meeting on legal aid this morning that Chancery Lane is still waiting to receive a letter setting out how the ministry will engage with the legal profession.
The act, which came into force in April 2013, removed vast swaths of law from the scope of legal aid.
Asked by Laura Smith, Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich, when the review will be conducted, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC confirmed on Tuesday that the ministry, as part of the review, 'will be reaching out to experts and interested parties in the relevant fields to inform the evidence gathering process'.
Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith and vice-chair of the legal aid all-party group, told the Gazette it will take a while for the ministry to analyse the evidence received under the review.
He added: 'I often criticise the government for taking its time to respond to consultations, but this is such a big project. We have the benefit of the last five years of saying how LASPO has completely changed the terrain as far as legal aid and access to justice is concerned that I would rather the government take this seriously and take their time with it. What I would not want to see is [the government] just going through the motions.'
The ministry says it will conduct an evidence-based review which will assess the reforms' success against their implementation objectives, and believes it is right that the department takes time to gather evidence and experts' views on the impact of changes. The department is currently considering the most effective way to proceed and will provide further details of its approach shortly.