The government has outlined further details of its long-awaited review of controversial legal aid reforms, which will be completed by summer next year.
Publishing a post-legislative memorandum today, the Ministry of Justice said its review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, will seek views on the reforms introduced under the legislation from 'interested parties' including the legal profession.
The act, which came into force in April 2013, removed vast swaths of law from the scope of legal aid. The ministry said today the review will ensure legal aid continues to be made available for the highest priority cases, 'at the same time as discouraging unnecessary and adversarial litigation and ensuring value for taxpayers' money'.
The review will examine:
- Changes to the scope of legal aid for family, civil and criminal cases, and the introduction of the Exceptional Case Funding Scheme;
- Adjustments to fees for various types of legal aid work;
- Procedural measures the Act brought in, including the introduction of the mandatory telephone gateway and the introduction of evidence requirements for victims of domestic violence and child abuse;
- Amendments to the rules on financial eligibility, including the application of the capital eligibility test to all legal aid applicants, increasing income contributions for those eligible to contribute, and capping the subject matter of dispute disregard;
- Reform of the application of the merits test; and
- Abolition of the Legal Services Commission and its replacement with the Legal Aid Agency.
The review will be completed before the start of next year's summer recess. Justice minister Dominic Raab will shortly write to 'interested groups to invite them to inform this important work'.
Raab added: 'Maintaining access to justice continues to be at the heart of our reforms. We are focusing legal aid resources on those who most need help. We spent £1.6bn on legal aid last year, just over a fifth of the Ministry of Justice's budget.'
The ministry also announced that a review of the civil litigation funding and costs reforms introduced in part two of LASPO will occur in parallel, to the same timetable.
The Law Society has welcomed the review. Joe Egan, president, said: 'This act meant hundreds of thousands of people eligible for legal aid on 31 March 2013 became ineligible the very next day. Even those in England and Wales whom parliament vowed at the time of LASPO should be able to access legal help are unable to get the advice and representation they need.
'This post-implementation appraisal by the government is long-awaited and needs to be comprehensive. We look forward to contributing to this vitally important review. If people cannot access advice or protect their rights, then effectively those rights do not exist.'
Andrew Langdon QC, chairman of the bar, echoed the Society's comments. 'This long-awaited review offers the government an important opportunity to take stock of the damage caused by the unprecedented cuts to legal aid that LASPO introduced and to reassess the value of justice to citizens,' he said. 'This review comes not a moment too soon.'