Reform of legal aid: new law
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) has after a long passage through Parliament finally received the Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament.
This means that changes to the scope, eligibility and other aspects of the legal aid scheme – many of which have been outlined in earlier comments in this blog – are now law. The Legal Services Commission’s website notes that these reforms are due to be implemented on 1 April 2013.
The Act also means that a new Agency will be created. The LSC will be replaced by the Legal Aid Agency, which will be an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice. The Legal Aid Agency will also start to operate formally on 1 April 2013.
Independence of legal decision-making is to be preserved with the creation of a Director of Legal Aid Casework. The Director of Legal Aid Casework will have independence from the Lord Chancellor in applying directions and guidance to individual funding decisions. This is protected under the new statutory framework.
As Chief Executive Designate of the new Agency, it is expected that Matthew Coats will also be appointed the Director of Legal Aid Casework.
According to the Ministry of Justice Press release:
- Ensures that legal aid is available for those who require formal legal advice and assistance and provides access to a range of alternative sources of dispute resolution in appropriate cases
- Increases mediation funding to £25 million a year and provide an additional £20 million a year for the next three years for third sector advice and assistance organisations
- Reforms civil litigation procedures by dealing with disproportionate legal costs, and by capping the amount that lawyers can take in success fees
- Makes referral fees illegal in personal injury cases.
It remains to be seen whether the outcomes indicated above are achieved in practice. Certainly there is widespread concern throughout the legal world that great damage will be done to the provision of legal advice and assistance to the poor.
Further news will be noted in these columns over the coming months.