Government “does not understand” impact of decade-old legal aid cuts


MoJ: Lack of curiosity about falling provider numbers

The government does not understand how costs may have shifted to other areas of the justice system or public sector following cuts in legal aid spending, the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) has warned.

The committee said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had taken steps to address issues with the market sustainability of legal aid through its reviews of criminal and civil legal aid, but the pace of its response had been “troublingly slow”.

The report, Value for money from legal aid, was published just before Parliament was prorogued on Friday and follows the National Audit Office’s report on the government’s management of legal aid earlier this year, which said the MoJ “does not know whether everyone eligible for legal aid can access it” and “still lacks an understanding of the full costs and benefits” of the LASPO reforms introduced in 2013.

MPs said there had been a £728m (28%) real-terms reduction in legal aid spending in 2022–23 compared with a decade earlier.

But both MoJ and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) had “failed to improve their understanding of where costs may have shifted to other areas of the justice system or wider government”.

While the MoJ acknowledged that the removal of early legal advice for issues such as immigration and family may have led to additional costs, it had “failed to make progress in identifying or addressing them”.

Meanwhile, HMCTS had failed to improve the data it collects on litigants in person (LiPs), which was “particularly disappointing”.

MPs also said they were “deeply concerned” by the “lack of curiosity” displayed by the MoJ and Legal Aid Agency (LAA) on the impact of “decreasing numbers of providers on people’s access to legal aid”.

Capacity to provide housing and immigration advice, and police station duty schemes, were “of particular concern”.

There were areas of the country where people could only access housing advice remotely, but the MoJ and LAA “did not know enough about how this impacts vulnerable groups who may find it more difficult to access legal aid in this way”.

The committee recommended that the MoJ and the LAA set out “how they intend to improve the data they collect on demand for and access to legal aid” so that they could better monitor whether an area had “sufficient provision for a particular category of law to meet demand”.

This should include details of “how they plan to consider specific local variation such as deprivation or access to public transport and demographics such as disability” and “the extent to which capacity constraints may mean people are unable to access legal aid in areas where there are providers”.

The MoJ should also “clarify what the options are for those who are unable to make use of remote advice” and “specifically consider vulnerable groups in areas with no face-to-face legal aid provision, whose issues may be too complex to solve via telephone”.

On shifting costs from legal aid to other public services, the PAC said it recognised that it would not be possible to calculate a precise figure.

However, the MoJ should set how it planned to work with other government departments – such as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department of Health and Social Care – to “better understand where reforms may have led to cost-shunting and the potential scale of these costs”.

This included how it intended to work with HMCTS to “improve available quantitative analysis” on the impact of LiPs on the administration of justice, as the committee had recommended in 2015.

MPs said they were not convinced the MoJ had put in place “sufficient measures to ensure the future sustainability of the legal aid market”. The review of civil legal aid, which is now on hold in the run-up to the general election, was of “particular concern”.

The PAC added: “Low fees can impact firms’ ability to train and recruit new staff and impact their long-term sustainability.”




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