The provision of legal aid is governed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). The reforms made under LASPO were intended to target legal aid at those who needed it most. During the past year, the Government has been conducting a post-implementation review (PIR) to assess the impact of LASPO against its original objectives. National Legal Service Solicitors welcome the publication of the PIR & Legal Support Action Plan by the Ministry of Justice.
Key Promises of the review include:-
- £5m for ‘innovative’ forms of legal support. Such support could be a Skype tool or a program that converts lengthy written arguments into an appropriate presentation which people can automatically put into a claim form;
- £3m over two years to support litigants in person.
As part of the action plan the MOJ will also:
- Review the legal aid means test (by summer 2020);
- Bring forward proposals to expand legal aid to include separated migrant children in immigration cases (by spring 2019);
- Bring forward proposals to expand legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private family law (by autumn 2019);
- Work with the Law Society to explore an ‘alternative model’ for family legal aid;
- Consider introducing an emergency procedure for urgent matters to access the exceptional case funding scheme (by the end of 2019);
Ms Kirsty Richards, Head of Family, National Legal Service Solicitors says “This is a very positive result that has come from the review and as a result of some particularly tenacious individuals and organisations that have been at the front line demanding change and reform. There is no doubt in my mind that LASPO has had a devastating impact on the legal aid sector and more importantly, it has negatively impacted many vulnerable parents and children as they have not been able to get the advice they needed. In some cases this has led to desperate actions of at least one parent in failing to return a child following contact, for example. It will remain to be seen whether the proposed changes will bring about the tide of change that is actually required to start repairing the damage caused by LASPO. But, this is certainly a positive start to that journey of repair ”