The Ministry of Justice published a document on Monday evening which revealed the impact of legal aid cuts since 2012. The 120-page post-legislative memorandum of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), details a huge reduction in those eligible for legal aid and a dramatic increase in those facing court without a lawyer.
The report highlighted the particular impact on those seeking legal aid in private family law proceedings and in benefits cases.
The coalition government that passed LASPO into law, aimed to encourage family mediation rather than litigation in private family law proceedings. In fact, the document admits that ‘the opposite occurred’. The year prior to LASPO, there were 31,000 Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings and 14,000 mediation starts. By 2016-17, there were only 13,000 MIAMs and 7,700 mediation starts. These figures show a 61% and 44% drop respectively. Instead, people are missing out on the initial legal advice which would recommend mediation and are facing court without legal help.
An even more dramatic result was seen in those seeking legal aid in cases relating to welfare benefits issues. The report states that ‘the numbers in receipt of legal aid for advice and assistance on welfare benefits issues has fallen from 83,000 in 2012-13 to 440 in 2016-17′. This represents a staggering drop of 99.5%.
By withdrawing legal aid for certain types of matters and adjusting eligibility rules, the document has been able to report a success on one of the core objectives of LASPO – to reduce the amount of expenditure on legal aid. ‘The objective has clearly been achieved – the Government is now providing legal aid funding for fewer cases and paying less for the cases that are funded.’ In fact, there has been a 38% (£950m) drop, in real terms, of legal aid expenditure between 2010-11 and 2016-17.
The cuts have faced much criticism since they were implemented. Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary commented in an article for the Guardian that LASPO has ‘left many vulnerable people unable to defend themselves is areas as fundamental as housing, employment, immigration and welfare benefits’.
A further analysis of the review is due for publication in the summer of 2018.
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