An independent commission set up to examine the impact of legal aid cuts and develop a strategy to help ensure access to justice is to be wound up because of a lack of funds.
The Low Commission’s future was revealed by its chair, crossbench peer Lord Low of Dalston (academic and campaigner Colin Low, pictured), in the commission’s latest newsletter.
Lord Low said: ‘The commission, as a formal body, is now going to start a process of winding up – but there will still be ongoing work to secure the commission’s legacy and influence.’
The commission told the Gazette that its 'funding cycle has run out and we have completed the mandate of work we were funded to do'.
The commission’s first report, Tackling the advice deficit – a strategy for access to advice and legal support on social welfare law in England and Wales, called for the reintroduction of legal aid for all housing cases.
Its second report, Getting it right in social welfare law, warned that a growing shortage of social welfare advice was undermining how the welfare system worked and was leading to poorer health outcomes.
The commission called for joined-up action between local government, the NHS, and central government departments such as the Ministry of Justice.
Its latest report, Manifesto for Advice in Wales, warned that legal services could cease to exist in rural Wales if current trends continued.
In the newsletter, Low says: ‘We have looked at undertaking a further tranche of research work to update ourselves, policymakers and our stakeholders on what is happening with services on the ground – in particular we are interested in developing projects that can realise and evidence the potential of integrating advice services into NHS and care pathways.
‘However, this would require further resources and funding which is increasingly hard to secure.’ The commission is currently funded by private donors the Baring Foundation, Lankelly Chase Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Trust for London.
Low said the commission’s meetings with policymakers and engaging in advice sector events ‘will be ongoing’.
Its website, with access to all the commission’s work, ‘will stay online’, Low added.
The commission was established by the Legal Action Group in 2012 with funding from major trusts and foundations and support from law firms Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Clifford Chance.
Legal Action Group director Steve Hynes paid tribute to Low for the 'leadership' he had shown.
'Because [Low] is a crossbencher, he has not got any particular political axe to grind. He's fantastic with ministers,' Hynes said.
Following the commission's report on social welfare advice and health outcomes, Hynes said the group 'hoped to have another project' around that theme.
The report, The Role of Advice Services in Health Outcomes, found that good welfare advice led to a variety of positive health outcomes.