Civil legal aid review essential but interim measures needed now, says Bar Council
The Bar Council has welcomed a long overdue review into civil legal aid but warned that interim measures are needed now to prevent the complete collapse of the system.
The Ministry of Justice announced the review of civil legal aid today aiming to improve long-term sustainability of the system that allows people to access legal services for civil and family issues.
The final report of the review is not due to be published until 2024 meaning policy decisions may not be implemented before the next General Election.
The Bar Council’s recent reports on civil legal aid outlined the severity of the problems caused by the funding cuts to civil legal aid in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
The Bar Council will support the review by providing data on civil legal aid work carried out by barristers.
Commenting, Nick Vineall KC, Chair of the Bar, said:
“A review of civil legal is essential and long overdue. The cuts to civil legal aid a decade ago have had a profound impact on access to justice and on the lawyers who undertake legally aided work for individuals and families. This adversely affects the most vulnerable in society.
“The widespread closure of advice centres and high street solicitors providing early legal advice has created multiple problems in the system. Unnecessary and costly court cases, an increase in people struggling to represent themselves, and increasingly stressful work for lawyers having to firefight.
“Whilst it is important that the review is comprehensive, a lot of the evidence for change already exists. We are concerned that the timetable for the review is too slow given the year-on-year decline in providers.
“The review is not due to report until 2024, so any changes are not likely to take place until 2025 at the earliest. That delay creates a threat in itself. Our solicitor colleagues who provide the critical first line of advice are increasingly leaving the legal aid market altogether because present levels of remuneration are simply unsustainable.
“Unless interim measures are put in place to shore up existing provision there will be no system left by 2025. Urgent action is needed now to prevent the complete collapse of the system and we urge the Government to consider short-term interim measures on fees and scope.”