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2015 looks set to be a critical year for the pro bono movement and its uneasy relationship with legal aid. The well-worn pro bono mantra – that pro bono is “an adjunct to and not a replacement for legal aid” – has been challenged in recent years. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO 2012) effectively scrapped public funding for much of social welfare law advice in April 2013 and the legal profession is finally beginning to rethink the formula. Legal aid lawyers are rightly sceptical about ministers trying to co-opt pro bono – but LASPO 2012 is a game-changer.
A sense of perspective is needed. Pro bono provides a tiny but increasingly significant amount of advice in this area. According to LawWorks, there were over 29,000 client enquiries at clinics in the period of April 2013 to March 2014 and almost two-thirds of those enquiries (62%) resulted in the provision of legal advice. To put that into context, those 17,980 clients represented less than 4% of the 460,000 drop in civil legal aid matters post-LASPO 2012.
So how does the pro bono community plan to respond to the cuts? Towards the end of 2013, the justice minister Simon Hughes unveiled a new court support service for litigants in person to be introduced in civil and family cases. The scheme is backed, and will be delivered by, a number of key pro bono groups as part of a £2m funding deal. The scheme will involve the Personal Support Unit (PSU), the Royal Court of Justice’s citizens advice bureau (RCJ Advice), LawWorks as well as the public legal education charity Law for Life.
The idea is for more PSUs in more courts, more LawWorks clinics, phone and email advice to local and regional centres from RCJ Advice plus information from Law for Life. There will be one person in each court to manage the new service and an appointed judge with a responsibility for litigants in person. “The strategy puts the litigant in person at the heart&rdq
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