The long awaited Government report on the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) has been published alongside a Legal Support Action Plan, outlining a package of policies on access to legal support services.
LawWorks have been engaged at all stages of the review and pre-review process, including
- Joint APPG meetings with Ministers;
- Co-ordinating, drafting and submitting a joint memo from stakeholders to the Justice Select Committee;
- Submitting evidence to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Review Team, and participating in the MoJ’s key consultative groups;
- Organising meetings at the main party conferences in 2017 and 2018 on access to justice topics and the work of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice;
- Supporting a conference with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), and also engaging wider stakeholders (for example the Equality and Diversity Forum).
The outcome of this review does not propose to change the fundamental structure of LASPO as the basis for providing legal aid, however some significant developments and initiatives are proposed. Government proposals include:
On legal aid reform
- The legal aid eligibility (means testing) regime to be reviewed, extending eligibility for non‑means tested legal aid for parents opposing applications for placement or adoption orders.
- A campaign to improve awareness of how people can access legal support, including legal aid.
- Expanding the scope of legal aid to include separated migrant children in immigration cases, and to cover special guardianship orders in private family law.
- Working with the Law Society to explore an alternative model for family legal aid.
- Working with legal practitioners on simplifying the exceptional case funding process, including a possible new emergency procedure.
- To remove the mandatory telephone gateway requirements for discrimination, special educational needs and debt cases.
- A consultation on proposals to provide guidance for families setting out the inquest process and legal aid system in lay terms.
- A comprehensive review of the criminal legal aid fee schemes and structures.
Early advice and support for Litigants in Person
- Undertake a pilot to explore how Government can better co-ordinate and signpost legal support.
- Pilot and evaluate the expansion of legal aid to cover early advice in a specific area of social welfare law by autumn 2019.
- Work collaboratively with the sector to pilot, test and evaluate the provision of holistic legal support hubs with up to £5m of funding to support new initiatives.
- Increased funding for the Litigants in Person Support Strategy to £3m for the next two years.
Wider engagement on research, processes and innovation
- Work more across departments to focus on ways to reduce preventable demand.
- Work across the justice system to explore how it can use data more effectively.
- Establish a Legal Support Advisory Network to make use of external expertise, shape research and evaluation proposals, and potentially explore new research opportunities and collaborations.
On pro bono the review also says that:
“We are also keen to work closely with the legal professions, and specialist not-for-profit organisations about the role Government can play to support the delivery of important pro bono services across the country. In particular the ways in which new technologies can empower legal practitioners to deliver more effective pro bono support, and other forms of support legal professions and firms can provide to individuals and other providers in the not-for-profit sector.”
The emphasis in the Action Plan on early advice and co-location of advice with other services (eg healthcare settings) is especially welcome, and the Plan draws on key recommendations of the Low Commission. Notwithstanding disappointment that restrictions on legal aid scope for social welfare law have only been marginally addressed, we will continue to constructively engage with these new initiatives.