Earlier this year, we reported on the outcomes from the LASPO review and the publication of the Government’s Legal Support Action Plan. Despite disappointment that the overall policy architecture of LASPO would remain unchanged, the plan contained some promising initiatives, including limited changes to legal aid scope and new pilot initiatives for early legal advice and support.
We continue to engage with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and a new Legal Support Advisory Group that is helping to steer the MoJ’s work. We also held a joint meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pro Bono and Public Legal Education with the APPG on Legal Aid, with a specific focus on public perceptions and awareness of legal aid, and the MoJ’s public awareness work.
Since publication of the Action Plan legislation has been brought forward to bring all migrant children’s cases back into scope, and a further review of criminal legal aid has been announced. Other initiatives, such as exceptional case funding and telehone gateway reforms, are progressed through new guidance and tenders that can be found on the Ministry of Justice’s website. A key question remains - with the next spending review reportedly being fast-tracked - whether the legal support approach outlined in the Action Plan will get the needed funding.
Whilst not directly an outcome from the LASPO review, the MoJ has also worked with the President of the Family Division and an expert group to launch a review of childcare cases, following an unprecedented increase. One of the main aims of this review is to identify and divert cases away from court, making better use of ‘out of court services’ such as mediation and dispute resolution. The review includes a call for evidence on assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases, looking at relevant practice directives, and how the family courts respond to allegations of domestic abuse and other serious offences.
Alongside the Legal Support Action Plan, a key plank of the Government’s access to justice strategy is courts reform, including online dispute resolution. Earlier this year, LawWorks provided (with our partners in the Litigants in Person Support Strategy) an evidence submission to the Justice Select Committee for its inquiry into court and tribunal reforms, following critical reports by the National Audit Office and others. Legislation to facilitate the online court has been making its way through Parliament; the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill was amended to include a duty to ‘make support available for digitally excluded people.’ LawWorks have provided briefings to Parliamentarians on the Bill.
Responding to important policy developments in personal injury (PI) claims, LawWorks contributed to a briefing with the PSU and others calling for a delay in the implementation of reforms under the Civil Liability Act. The briefing highlights how the combination of civil costs reforms (the Government review of part 2 of LASPO will retain current recoverability rules), the increase in the small claims threshold, and new the fixed tariff compensation system, may result in poorer outcomes for vulnerable injury victims. The new claims portal that the Government is planning to implement from November is intended for use by claimants, not lawyers. There are serious concerns, however, that the new system (currently untested) will be too complex to use without support. The MOJ estimates that the number of claimants who will be going through the process without legal representation could be around 150,000 per year.
There are concerns that that poor settlement offers from insurers will go unchallenged. The briefing highlights how expectations that the voluntary sector can step in to provide information and advice in this challenging area may be misplaced, and discusses how digital exclusion and legal information and capability issues need to be addressed in the portal design.