Contingency legal aid for cases out of scope is more likely to be granted now than a year ago, official figures suggest.
The Ministry of Justice granted exceptional case funding for 18% of applications in the first quarter of this year, compared with 10% in the same period in 2014.
Applicants are also less likely to see their applications refused, with 56% meeting this fate in the first three months of 2015, compared with 68% in 2014.
But the figures also reveal that fewer applications are being made compared with 2014, with 323 attempts made to receive exceptional case funding up to April 2015 – a 12% year-on-year drop.
Exceptional case funding was introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) as a safety net for cases to receive funding even if they fell out of scope of new eligibility rules. Its adoption ensured that the legislation did not breach the Human Rights Act.
The ministry said the increase in the number of successful applications is likely to be due to a change in the way cases are decided.
In June last year, judgment was handed down in the case of Gudanaviciene and others v Director of Legal Aid Casework in which the claimants were each seeking to challenge a decision not to approve exceptional case funding.
The MoJ said: ‘The judgment stated that the level required to justify legal aid was set too high and as a result the threshold was lowered.’
The figures show that applications for exceptional case funding for inquests are the most likely to be granted, with 15 approved and 13 refused in the first quarter of 2015.
In immigration, 16 applications were approved compared with 80 refused, while in family cases 21 applications were approved, with 54 rejected.
Overall, the workload for legally aided civil justice cases appears to have stabilised in the first full year since the implementation of LASPO, with figures roughly the same as in the same period of 2014 – though in most cases almost a third of levels pre-LASPO.
The figures also show that take-up of mediation is improving, but not to the extent hoped for.
The government expected mediation to remedy many disputes that would previously have been legally aided, but in the event clients without legal representation appear less likely to turn to mediation.
The number of initial mediation assessments fell sharply after the introduction of LASPO in April 2013, but over the last year there has been an increase. The number of assessments in the latest quarter was 19% up on the same period in 2013.
However, the number of family mediation starts in the first quarter of this year (2,336) was still 29% down on the 3,282 recorded in the same period in 2013. The current quarter was nevertheless the highest level since June 2013.