The government has finally confirmed details of its review into the 2013 legal aid cuts after sustained pressure from the profession, the judiciary as well as the House of Commons’ justice committee and human rights groups including Amnesty.
The review is expected to conclude before parliament’s summer break next year. In a written statement to parliament, the justice secretary David Lidington called the legal aid system ‘a fundamental pillar of access to justice’. The Lord Chancellor went on to say that the LASPO reforms were ‘founded on delivering better value for money for taxpayers by reducing the cost of the scheme and discouraging unnecessary and adversarial litigation, while ensuring that legal aid continues to be available for the highest priority cases, for example where life or liberty is at stake, where someone faces the loss of their home, in domestic violence cases, or where their children may be taken into care’.
The justice minister Dominic Raab said that he would be ‘shortly writing to interested groups to invite them to inform this important work’. ‘Maintaining access to justice continues to be at the heart of our reforms,’ he said. ‘We are focusing legal aid resources on those who most need help. Last year, we spent £1.6bn on legal aid last year, just over a fifth of the Ministry of Justice’s budget.’
The Law Society President Joe Egan argued that LASPO ‘meant hundreds of thousands of people eligible for legal aid on 31 March 2013 became ineligible the very next day’. ‘Even those in England and Wales whom parliament vowed at the time of LASPO should be able to access legal help are unable to get the advice and representation they need,’ Egan said.
This review comes ‘not a moment too soon’, added chair of the Bar Council Andrew Landon QC. ‘Society has become increasingly aware of the importance of access to justice in underpinning the rule of law and our democratic constitutional arrangements.’
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