The government’s safety net scheme for people denied civil legal aid received a record number of applications in the third quarter of the year, according to official statistics – which also reveal a wide-ranging decline in legal aid work and spending. 

Quarterly statistics published today show that the Legal Aid Agency received 638 applications for exceptional case funding between July and September. This is the highest number of applications received in a single quarter since the scheme began in April 2013, when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed vast swaths of law from the scope of legal aid.

The agency determined 603 (95%) exceptional case funding applications by 20 November: 325 (54%) were granted; 146 (24%) were refused; and 113 (19%) were rejected. Immigration accounted for more than half the applications, followed by requests in relation to inquests and family.

The steep rise in such requests could explain the downward trends that dominate the rest of the government's latest report.

In the criminal sphere, compared with the same period last year, the figures show: 

  • A fall of 1% in the number of police station advice cases; legally aided representation in the magistrates’ court fell by 6%;
  • Completed work in the magistrates’ court fell 10% and expenditure by 9%;
  • Completed work volumes in the solicitor fee scheme were 7% lower. The government says this is driven mainly by a 13% fall in cases in which the defendant pleads guilty at the earliest opportunity in the Crown court;
  • A 5% fall in the advocate fee scheme; and
  • Expenditure for very high cost cases was 26% lower.

In the civil sphere, compared to the same period last year, the figures show:

  • 4% fewer legal help new matter starts;
  • Volume of completed claims fell by 10% and expenditure by 6%;
  • Family legal help starts decreased by 12%, completed claims by 16% and expenditure by 13%;
  • Mediation information and assessment meetings were down by 5%;
  • Mental health new matter starts fell by 4% while completed claims dropped by 3% and expenditure by 4%;
  • An 11% decrease in completed claims and 16% decrease in expenditure in housing work starts 
  • A 2% fall in the number civil representation certificates granted, including a 3% decrease in certificates granted for family work; and
  • The number of applications for civil representation in private family law supported by domestic abuse evidence rose by 3%, but the number granted was down 3%.

By contrast, prison law work increased by 13%, driven by an increase in advocacy at prison disciplinary hearings. Expenditure rose by 19% compared to the same period last year.

The number of civil representation applications granted between July and September was 8% higher than in the same period last year. Judicial reviews account for around 3,000 of civil representation applications that are granted.

Opposition MPs have been piling pressure on the government to ensure its long-awaited review of the 2013 legal aid reforms is comprehensive. Last month MPs made lengthy submissions about the impact of the cuts at a Westminster Hall debate. However, justice minister Dominic Raab's comments suggested that a repeal of LASPO is unlikely.

Lord Keen of Elie, Ministry of Justice spokesperson in the House of Lords, will take part in a debate on the Bach Commission's report on access to justice later today.