The Ministry of Justice has issued details of how it will gather evidence for its review of controversial legal aid reforms a day after the lord chancellor admitted that the exercise is unlikely to be completed by the summer as promised.
The Ministry of Justice is required to look at the operation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act within three to five years of implementation. The act, which cut vast swaths of law from the scope of legal aid, came into force in April 2013. David Gauke told the Commons justice select committee yesterday that he wanted to look at whether the 'ambitious' summer recess deadline for the review was deliverable. However, he stressed that he did not want it to 'slip into next year'.
Today, the ministry published terms of reference for its 'post-implementation review evidence gathering exercise'.
The two-page document states that most of the data that will inform the ministry's assessment is held internally. However, the ministry insists it is keen to engage with interested parties, who will be grouped into consultative groups covering four sectors: civil, family and criminal justice and the advice sector. The ministry will consider the experiences of people who have received state-funded advice and representation through individual engagement. Interested parties will be able to submit data and evidence.
The ministry will also consider, more widely, the future of legal support. The document states: 'The consultations that preceded LASPO were published over seven years ago, and since this time there have been significant developments in our justice system. This includes the processes through which people can access legal advice. We have seen changes in our courts and tribunals service, which are also apparent more generally in the rapid technological advancements seen across society over the past seven years.'
The Law Society welcomed the ministry's decision to look at the future of legal support. Richard Miller, the Society's head of justice, said: 'As we outlined in our review, Justice Denied: LASPO Four Years On, the act has caused significant barriers to people faced with having to enforce and defend their rights, which need to be addressed urgently. The loss of early advice has been particularly significant in seeing people's problems worsen when they could have been nipped in the bud.
'We agree that new systems may change the nature of the advice and representation people need, but it will not change the fact that they need such advice and representation, in addition to any assistance they may need using new digital platforms. Any reforms to the system must prioritise the needs of those who have to rely on the justice system.'