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The current civil legal aid scheme is set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, or LASPO. Generally speaking, in order to be eligible for civil legal aid under LASPO, an applicant must pass three basic tests. The first test is that the case must be within the scope of the legal aid scheme. The second test is a financial means test. The third test is a merits test.

Under the previous scheme, set out in the Access to Justice Act 1999, the general approach was that any civil legal matter would be eligible for legal aid provided that it was not one of the “excluded” matters listed in Schedule 2 to the 1999 Act.  Individual applications for legal aid funding were assessed by reference to a “Funding Code”, which set out general principles on eligibility for legal aid. 

LASPO effectively reversed the 1999 Act’s general approach to legal aid: civil legal matters are excluded from the scope of legal aid unless they are one of the matters listed in Schedule 1 to the 2012 Act.  Many areas of civil law were therefore removed from the scope of legal aid. 

In very broad terms, the coalition Government argued repeatedly that it had to make savings from the legal aid budget in England and Wales. It also wished to discourage cases from coming to court when they might better be resolved by other means, such as mediation. Critics of the changes, on the other hand, argued that people seeking help with legal problems might be left with nowhere to turn.

The Government’s review

Prior to the 2017 general election the Government had committed to reviewing the operation of the legal aid provisions of LASPO within three to five years of their implementation. This would mean a review sometime between April 2016 and April 2018.

On 30 October 2017, the Lord Chancellor David Lidington laid the Government’s post-legislative memorandum for LASPO before the House: see Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012: Post-Legislative Memorandum, Cm 9486, October 2017. 

He also announced that he had asked Ministry of Justice officials to commence the promised post-implementation review of LASPO. He set out details of the intended scope of the review: Justice update, HCWS 204, 30 October 2017. 

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