Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Legal aid reform – the next round

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Just as legal aid lawyers might have thought that they had suffered their cuts, along comes another Consultation Paper setting out more ideas for reform – designed, of course, to further reduce public expenditure on legal aid.

The Consultation Paper, Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system, published on April 9th 2013, contains a rather complex mix of ideas that the Government is seeking to pursue.

The headline changes that are under consideration include:

  • Removing criminal legal aid in prison law cases that do not justify the use of public money – such as complaints about the category of prison or correspondence a prisoner is allowed.  The Government argues that many such cases can be addressed by the prisoner complaint system.
  • Introducing a threshold on Crown Court legal aid to stop wealthy defendants with an annual household disposable income of £37,500 or more being automatically granted legal aid, which would avoid having to fight to get the money back after their trial.
  • Introducing a residency test so that only those with a strong connection to the UK are able to receive civil legal aid.
  • Discouraging so-called ‘weak’ judicial review cases by tightening up the payment mechanism, only paying providers for work done on bringing a claim once a judge has agreed the case is strong enough to proceed.
  • Making it harder for claimants to use civil legal aid to bring speculative cases by tightening the test so that all cases must have at least a 50% chance of success to be funded.
  • Introducing competition for legally-aided advice and representation (not including Crown Court advocacy).
  • Restructuring the Crown Court advocacy fee scheme by paying the same rates to advocates irrespective of whether there is an early or a late guilty plea or a short trial. This proposal provides more incentive to complete cases as early as possible.
  • Reducing certain legal aid fees paid in civil cases and to experts.

These new proposals will be hard fought by the legal professions, in particular the proposal to introduce competitive tendering for the supply of criminal defence services – an issue that has been around a long time but which successive Lord Chancellors have – until now – fought shy of pursuing.

Further information, including links to the consultation paper are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/making-legal-aid-fairer-for-taxpayers–2
See also https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid

The Consultation runs until June 4th 2013

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Written by lwtmp

April 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Chapter 10, Chapter 5

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