Bar Council comments on new legal aid statistics
The Legal Aid Statistics in England and WalesJanuary to March 2015 from the Ministry of Justice show that in the two years following the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), the number of new matter starts has fallen year-on-year, says the Bar Council
Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar said: “These figures show access to justice is not improving. Even the few who are still eligible for legal aid are not getting the help they deserve. Clearly more needs to be done to ensure that these people, who are among the most vulnerable in society, are aware that help is available.
“LASPO removed legal aid from hundreds of thousands of people per year in one fell swoop. The year after it was introduced, over 400,000 fewer people accessed legal help to assist with employment, housing, welfare, family or other legal problems compared with the year before. Today’s figures show the situation has worsened.”
In the year 2012/13 the number of legal help matters started was 573,672, compared with 173,373 in 2013/14, the first full year post-LASPO. The figures for 2014/15 show only 170,617 matters started which means nearly 3,000 fewer people getting help.
Comparing January to March this year (2014/15) with the same quarter in previous years, the figures show the number of matters started fell from 134,501 in 2012/13 to 46,044 in 2013/14 and then down to 43,307 for 2014/15.
Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar said: “Now we know that the drop in numbers after LASPO was not a blip. If anything, the trend on access to justice has worsened. As the Public Accounts Committee found in February this year in their report, ‘Implementing Reforms to Civil Legal Aid', the LASPO reforms came in too hard and too fast and with no effective plans to make sure legal aid went to those who need it most.
“The exceptional funding mechanism was designed to help between 5,000 and 7,000 people taken out of eligibility for legal aid, but it has been a failure from the start, with only 1,516 applications in the first year, of which only 70 were granted. This year even fewer applications were made, only 1,172. The number of applications granted has increased to 214, but as a safety net designed to catch those in greatest need, this is not of any use at all.
“The Government’s original exceptional case funding guidance has been subject to legal challenges and was found to be unlawful. It was replaced in June this year, and it is hoped that the next quarter figures will show us whether the new guidance has had an impact on funding decision-making.”