Figures released by the Ministry of Justice this week show the stark impact of the government’s legal aid cuts.
The first full-year figures since the April 2013 implementation of cuts in scope made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 also reveal that the number of legal aid cases and cost were falling before the cuts were implemented.
In 2013/14 the Legal Aid Agency facilitated 1.8 million acts of assistance, costing just over £1.7bn for both criminal (£0.9bn) and civil (£0.8bn) matters. This showed a 20% drop from the 2.3 million acts of assistance in 2012/13 and an 11% drop in cost from £1.9bn the previous year.
The report shows the number of acts of assistance peaked in 2009/10. Since then volumes have fallen by 39%. Within that, crime has reduced by 14% and civil legal aid by almost two-thirds.
The largest drop in criminal legal aid has been in magistrates’ court work, with volumes down by 21% between 2008 and 2013. This is attributed by the report to a reduction in crime.
On the civil side, the report shows the volume of new matter starts for civil legal help fell by over 80% between 2009/10 and 2013/14 and the number of certificates for civil representation dropped by 30% between 201/11 and 2013/14.
In the past four years the volume of family work has been decreasing. Last year saw a dramatic 60% fall, following LASPO, which removed most private law family cases from the scope of public funding.
The largest fall was in private law Children Act proceedings, with over 30,000 fewer certificates granted.
The number of family mediations fell from 15,357 in 2011/12 and 13,609 in 2012/13 to 8,400 last year.
The volume of cases in social welfare law, including community care, debt, housing and welfare benefits, fell by 79% in 2013/14 compared to 2012/13 due to the scope cuts.
But again, the report shows volumes were declining pre-LASPO, with volumes falling by 29% between 2010/11 and 2012/13.
Elsewhere the number of immigration cases fell by 45% in 2013/14 compared to the previous year.
Since LASPO came into force, there have been 1,520 applications for exceptional funding, of which 69 were granted. Of them 53 were for inquests, nine for family cases and four immigration matters.
The report also shows the impact on practitioners of the cuts and declining volumes. Since 2007/08 the number of firms carrying out civil legal aid work has nearly halved while the number of criminal providers decreased by 16%.
In the past year the number of civil providers has decreased by almost a quarter and the number of crime providers by 5%. The not-for-profit sector has seen a 90% reduction in providers.
The director of the Legal Action Group, Steve Hynes said: ‘This shows the telling picture that we have been saying all along – cases were dropping anyway before the LASPO scope cuts.’