Documents to download

In introducing the changes to civil legal aid enacted through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (the 2012 Act), the previous Government argued (in very broad terms) that it had to make savings from the legal aid budget.  Although it was focusing on those it considered to be in greatest need and keeping the most pressing cases in scope, it wished too to discourage cases from coming to court when they might better be resolved by other means, such as other forms of advice or mediation.  Critics of the changes, on the other hand, argued that they would have a disproportionate effect on the poor and the vulnerable, who might have nowhere else to turn.

Concerns about “advice deserts” ─ that is, areas where people cannot access certain legal aid services ─ are not new; they were articulated, for example, in a report from Citizens Advice in 2004 on the geography of advice.  Such concerns were revived by the planned reforms and the subsequent 2012 Act which (its critics claimed) would have an adverse impact on providers of legal aid and especially, but not exclusively, the not-for-profit sector, thus leaving people with legal problems with fewer sources of help. 

In March 2015, the Justice Committee in its report on the impact of the reforms argued that the number of providers was a “comparatively meaningless” measure in assessing the state of the market.  Although neither the Committee nor the Ministry of Justice knew for certain whether there are advice deserts in England and Wales, data reported by the National Audit Office indicated that there might be a substantial number.

The Ministry of Justice, though, has argued that, to reduce the deficit, tough decisions had to be made.  It has accepted that there have been “challenges” but argues that the reforms have yet to reach “steady state”.  It has also set out how it is addressing concerns about the uneven spread of service provision.

Particular issues surrounding the availability of legal aid for victims of domestic abuse, the 2012 Act’s impact on clients seeking help with legal problems and the rise in the number of self-represented litigants (litigants in person) observed since the 2012 Act came into force are discussed in other Commons Library briefings, available on Parliament’s topic page for legal aid.

Documents to download

Related posts