The Law Society is considering how an innovation fund could help legal aid solicitors harness new technology to improve access to justice.
In a submission to the Labour party’s legal aid review, the Society said there was ‘scope for innovation’ among solicitors to produce ‘bespoke technological solutions that reflect their businesses and meet the needs of their clients’.
But there was a ‘question mark’ over whether solicitors could afford the investment required.
‘The Society is therefore looking into whether there might be scope for an innovation fund, whereby grant funders would make grants to firms that have ideas for ways of using technology to improve access to justice,’ the submission states.
Labour is to present the findings of its legal aid review, led by former justice minister Lord Bach, at this year’s party conference.
In its submission to the review, the Society identifies the Partnership Initiative Budget, which operated under the former Legal Services Commission, as a precedent.
‘We are still in the early stages of considering this idea, but our initial thinking is that such a fund might be generated from a combination of private, third sector and public sector sources,’ the submission states.
Welcoming the Court of Appeal’s ruling last month on the lawfulness of rules requiring victims of domestic violence to have a prescribed form of evidence before they can apply for family law legal aid, the Society proposed that solicitors be allowed to ‘certify’ that an individual is a victim of domestic violence.
Meanwhile, alternative approaches to civil legal aid remuneration should also be considered, the Society suggested.
‘We believe it is worth looking again at the fundamental point that legal aid currently works on the basis of paying individually for each of millions of pieces of advice provided,’ the submission states.
‘There is a precedent in the form of the old block contracting system for the not-for-profit sector where the provider was remunerated on the basis of caseworker hours rather than for each individual case.’
Restoring family legal help at the basic fixed fee would address problems around a drop in the use of mediation and increase in litigants in person in the family courts, the Society said.
The Ministry of Justice ‘had not appreciated that solicitors are a major source of referrals to mediation’, the submission states.
The Society said restoring ‘Family Help Level 1’ for early advice would cost an estimated £14m, which could be funded through the shortfall in mediation, which was a civil legal aid underspend.