Justice minister Lord Faulks has confirmed the new government will not carry out an immediate review of civil legal aid cuts.
Faulks told the House of Lords yesterday that a ‘systematic review’ of the changes will be carried out, but not until 2018.
The stance is a reaffirmation of the previous government’s position, but will disappoint campaigners who want to restore legal aid for certain cases.
Faulks denied that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 had been a ‘disaster’ and described the reforms as ‘sensible and well-directed changes’.
He said: ‘All the ministers in the Ministry of Justice are wedded to the rule of law and to access to justice.
‘But the question that arises out of social welfare law is whether it is always necessary for everybody who has quite real problems to have a lawyer at £200-odd-an-hour, or whether there are better and more effective ways of giving advice.’
Faulks stressed that Labour had made no commitment in the lead-up to the general election to restore any legal aid funding.
And he stated that ‘significant sums’ have been given to bodies that serve as an alternative to individual lawyers, including £16.8m to the advice services fund and £107m to the transitional fund started in 2010.
The government was criticised in the last parliament by the public accounts committee and justice committee for not fully considering the consequences of implementing LASPO.
Pressed on the issue of exceptional funding, which was supposed to act as a safety net but has been granted sparingly, Faulks said the percentage of applications that are granted has risen to 25%.
He said there is now ‘better understanding’ in the legal profession about what exceptional case funding is designed to cover.
Shadow attorney general Lord Bach, who raised the issue through a parliamentary question, said the 52,000 social welfare cases that received funding in 2014 marked an 88% drop compared with 2010.
‘The poor, the vulnerable and the disabled, who previously benefited from legal advice, are now effectively deprived of access to justice,’ he added.