Legal Aid Cuts: where are we now?

where are we now

On 8 April 2013 the Government announced a further round of cuts to legal aid in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation. The consultation received around 16,000 responses. A response to the consultation was published on 5 September 2013 and the Government has started to enact secondary legislation to implement the proposals. On 13 December 2013 the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published its report on “the implications for access to justice of the Government’s proposed legal aid reforms”. This document sets out where we are now with the changes.

The proposed cuts to legal aid are summarised here (one page handout).
They are
1. Residence Test
2. Prison Law cuts
3. Judicial Review changes
4. Criminal Legal Aid cuts
5. Merits test changes
6. Cuts to expert fees
7. Crown Court changes to means
  
The Residence test

Status: Proposed implementation May 2014?

Any person not lawfully resident in the UK for 12 months is not entitled to legal aid. This is subject to some exceptions e.g. for asylum seekers; victims of trafficking; certain cases involving children or domestic violence; detention cases; and children lawfully resident but aged under 12 months. The JCHR has called for the test to be implemented by primary legislation, if at all, has expressed concern that the test will place the UK in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Trafficking Directive and has criticised the exceptions as too limited – e.g. a trafficking victim will be unable to access legal aid to help if they become homeless.

The Residence Test is being challenged and the court hearing is likely to take place in the next few months. Government proposals on this are therefore expected in May. YLAL’s website has anonymous case studies of cases that would be affected by the residence test.

Prison law

Status: Came into force on 2 Dec 2013. House of Lords debate February 2014.

Legal aid is no longer available for treatment, resettlement, categorisation, or for Parole Board hearings where the Board does not have the power to direct the prisoner’s release. This means it is no longer possible to carry out legal work to assist prisoners in rehabilitating and reducing their risk of reoffending. EG the removal of resettlement means that a prisoner cannot access criminal legal aid to help secure release accommodation. The JCHR has urged that funding remain available for all parole hearings, categorization, mother and baby cases and cases affecting young people and prisoners with mental health problems.

There is a challenge to the cuts and a recent ‘regret’ motion debate in the House of Lords. Find our more information from the debate here

The merits test for civil legal aid

StatusProposed implementation early 2014

No legal aid for cases where the prospects of winning are unclear. The JCHR has recommended that funding remain available for these cases citing concern that the proposal may result in inequality of arms and impede the development of the law.

No legal aid for families on modest incomes in the Crown Court

StatusProposed implementation early 2014.

No household with a disposable income over £37,500 will receive legal aid in the Crown Court unless they can demonstrate “hardship”.

Judicial review

StatusGovernment has responded to the consultation and is proceeding to implement Judicial Review proposals

Legal aid will only be paid where a judge has granted permission for the case to be argued or where specific requirements are met. This represents a shift from the original proposal that lawyers would only be paid if permission was granted. The new consultation proposes to change the law to make it harder for illegal decisions by Government to be challenged by:

  • restricting the ability of campaign groups (among others) to bring judicial reviews;
  • restricting judicial reviews based on challenges to procedural defects that Government believes would have made no difference to the ultimate outcome.
Read the response to the most recent Judicial Review proposals.

Criminal legal aid: police stations and courts

Status: Government announced cuts today

On 5 September the Justice Secretary announced that only contracts for police station work will be subject to competitive tendering. Clients will retain the ability to choose their solicitor. But there will be consolidation of the market (meaning some firms will close) and a 17.5% cut in fees across the board.

Read more here

Fee cuts for experts and lawyers

StatusCame into force on 2 December 2013

Expert witness fees cut by 20%, increasing the likelihood of miscarriages of justice in complex cases. Fees also cut for lawyers in civil, crime, and immigration law. The civil cuts have been drawn to the attention of Parliament by the delegated legislation committee.

The implications of the cuts under the previous Legal Aid Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders has been covered in a number of articles. Young Legal Aid Lawyers have also produced a website where people can publicise anonymously cases which can no longer be brought.

Justice Alliance believes the cuts will:

– Destroy the fabric of the justice system in England and Wales
– Lead to a dramatic rise in miscarriages of justice
– Undermine the principles of access to the courts for all
– Severely undermine the ability of individuals including victims of torture, victims of police abuse and victims of sexual grooming, to hold the state to account
– Damage the UK’s international legal reputation
– Create knock on costs of up to £47 million and cause long term waste of taxpayer money.
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