The justice minister this week told the House of Commons that there was no evidence to suggest that scrapping legal aid for early legal advice was a false economy. As reported last week on LegalVoice, the Law Society published research into the benefits of early legal advice much of it scrapped under the LASPO cuts (see here).
A Labour MP, Emma Hardy asked Dominic Raab whether he agreed that the restoration of early legal advice ‘would not only help solve some legal problems, but save taxpayers’ money’. ‘I am not sure that the evidence is there to back up her assertion,’ Raab replied.
Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons’ justice committee, noted that a growth in the use of mediation was expected as a result of the 2013 cuts to legal aid in family law. ‘In fact, the numbers using mediation have dropped massively, and all the evidence indicates that that is because early legal advice is a gateway to mediation for assisted parties and reduces the burden of litigants in person in the courts,’ he said. ‘Is it not time that the Minister looked again at the issue?’
Raab promised that the LASPO review would provide ‘an opportunity to look at all of this in the round’. However, he added that he did not think the answer would be ‘exclusively about money’.
The Labour MP Helen Jones noted that early legal help in family court cases ‘would cost less than £14 million’. ‘Why does the Minister continue to insist that this is not a cost-effective way of dealing with cases? Does he actually know how many cases are proceeding with litigants in person, and how much that is costing the courts system?’ she asked.
The justice minister pointed out that the UK spent £1.6 billion on legal aid ‘which is a quarter of my Department’s budget’ and ‘more legal aid per capita than any other Council of Europe country’.
The shadow justice minister Richard Burgon called upon his opposite number to demonstrate that he was ‘not driven purely by ideology’ and to agree to ‘a simple thing’ – to commission research into the savings that could come from early legal help to better inform the LASPO review.
Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, asked Raab about the Legal Aid Agency’s recent refusal of exceptional case funding to the families of the victims of the Shoreham air show disaster. ‘Can it be right that the families of the victims of an event that at the time resulted in the largest civilian loss of life since 7/7 might be the only ones not to have legal representation at the coroners’ inquest next year, not least when there is a wider public interest for the over 2 million people who attend 300-plus civilian air shows each year?’
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