The cost of reducing access to legal aid

The cost of reducing access to legal aid

Family analysis: What can be learned from the Justice Select Committee's report into the impact of the reforms to civil legal aid? Elspeth Thomson, a family and children law specialist and managing partner at David Gray Solicitors LLP, points out that the changes in the legal aid market have a knock-on effect in the rest of the legal market as legal aid firms are forced to diversify.

Original news

Government failed its civil legal aid objectives

Civil legal aid cuts by the government had not targeted the most needy and failed to discourage unnecessary litigation, the Justice Committee stated. Its report stated while the government had achieved its aim of reducing the civil legal aid budget, it could not show the taxpayer it was delivering better value for money.

What are the key findings of this report in relation to access to legal aid?

The key findings are:

  • while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has achieved one of its four objectives--making significant savings in the cost of the legal aid scheme--it has harmed access to justice for some litigants and has not achieved the other three objectives of discouraging unnecessary litigation, targeting legal aid and delivering better overall value for money for the taxpayer
  • since the reforms came into effect there has been an underspend in the civil legal aid budget because the MoJ has not ensured that many people who are eligible for legal aid are able to access it
  • the exceptional cases funding scheme has not acted as a safety net, protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable, as parliament intended
  • a large proportion of victims of domestic violence do not have any of the types of evidence required to entitle them to legal aid and the potentially detrimental effects of the strict requirement that the evidence be from no more than 24 months prior to the date of application, are troubling
  • the reforms have led to the cutting and significant downsizing of departments in both the for-profit and not-for-profit

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