The Ministry of Justice has asked practitioners to 'be a bit more open' with hard data to inform an ongoing review of the government's controversial legal aid reforms.
The ministry has discussed the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) with more than 50 organisations so far as part of its post-implementation review, due to be completed this year.
Asked at a LASPO review conference last week about the scale of the data the MoJ review team wants to incorporate into the review, Matthew Shelley, the ministry's deputy director for legal support and court fees, said 'a lot of data' is collected by the ministry and HM Courts & Tribunals Service. However, when evidence is requested from the sector, the information is 'largely anecdotal'.
'Yet you must collect your own data and it's hard to get access to that data, to release the data [you] hold. My plea is to be a bit more open about that information to inform our review,' Shelley said.
The deputy director was told that data collection can be a difficult and expensive task. Ruth Hayes, Islington Law Centre director, suggested the ministry would be 'better talking to community groups who don't have legal advisers [and are] spending hours phoning around trying to find one'.
Another attendee said: 'If data will help you persuade the Treasury to fund legal aid, if you let us know what it is, we could try and do it for a month. I know it's a pain to do it. But we need to be supporting the [MoJ]. Tell us what data would be useful for you to have. We can work out what might be possible for a week or a month, and take it from there.'
Practitioners have until the end of September to submit evidence to the review team.
Earlier in the day, the conference was updated on the ministry's consultative group meetings, which cover criminal, family justice and civil justice, and the advice and third sector. Highlighting some of the key themes that have emerged, Shelley said people 'accept that reversing the cuts is not a solution. We need to look at ways in which we are delivering services'.
Meanwhile, in her latest update, Criminal Bar Association chair Angela Rafferty QC said last week's decision to accept the government's £15m offer to end criminal barristers' protests against the government's legal aid cuts 'has to be a first step'.
Rafferty said: 'The criminal bar has a long road ahead towards rehabilitation and restoration. Those of you who voted no, and those who reluctantly voted yes, are still very angry, disillusioned and afraid that this will be a sticking plaster solution... No one reading this should assume that anything is fixed. A permanent solution to the malaise and crisis in the criminal justice system has to be found. All that has been bought is time.'