The erosion of the civil legal aid scheme continued apace with 2,000 fewer non-family legal aid cases this year compared to the previous 12 months, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice. The statistics also revealed that the total number of firms and advice agencies on the ground providing legally aided help had collapsed by close to a third (32%) since the 2013 legal aid cuts came in.
The Law Centres Network argues that the shrinking of the legal aid scheme was neither sustainable for the providers nor their clients. ‘Legal aid cuts have gone further than the government had expected,’ commented Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, the group’s head of policy and profile. ‘In fact, legal aid has not reached a steady state since LASPO, and continues to shrink through additional cuts, fee rises and rule changes. This is simply not sustainable.’
Around half of the drop in non-family cases was as a result of a decline in new housing cases which was 3% down on the previous year. New immigration cases fell by 5% and mental health cases fell by 1%. ‘It is not sustainable to providers who struggle with paltry fees and clunky legal aid administration,’ said Ben-Cnaan. ‘More importantly, it is not sustainable for disadvantaged people, for whom legal aid exists. They may have rights, but without legal assistance to get remedies these rights do not count for much.’
He pointed to the work of North Kensington Law Centre assisting the Grenfell Tower survivors ‘mostly thanks to public donations, charitable grants and pro bono volunteering to augment its staff, as legal aid covers so little of their legal needs’.
‘The current system of legal aid is pulling us further and further away from the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘a country that works for everyone’. We look forward to the imminent review of LASPO and expect the government to make urgent changes, so that more people in need can access vital legal assistance.’
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, Law Centres Network
LCN also flagged up problems with the telephone gateway now mandatory for debt, discrimination and education. There was a 25% drop off in new discrimination cases and a decline in both debt and education.The latest figures also revealed that the government’s exceptional case funding ‘safety net scheme’ provided little help. Applications were up by over a third (35%) over the last quarter however, the LCN noted, that approvals dropped by 2% year on year. ‘Overall, only 954 people benefited from this so-called ‘safety net’ last year,’ LCN noted.
According to LCN: ‘When LASPO was first tabled, the government predicted that it would lead to 605,000 fewer cases than its latest figures at the time (2009/10). In fact, last year saw 848,643 fewer cases than that benchmark – way fewer than anticipated. The government also expected LASPO to achieve a £350m cut to legal aid spending, which was then £2.2bn. That mark was crossed in LASPO’s second year (2014-15) and the total legal aid spend now is £1.6bn.’
You can read the latest MoJ states here and LCN’s analysis here.
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