Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘legal advice

Legal support – the way ahead? How much vision?

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I have already noted the outcome of the  Post-Implementation Review of changes to the Legal Aid scheme contained in Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012. While the Government clearly does not want to make major changes to the scheme, the review did reveal issues to which the Government clearly feels it must respond. In February 2019 it published Legal Support: The Way Ahead – An action plan to deliver better support to people experiencing legal problems.

As a paper, it lacks the ambition or vision of other recent reports, in particular the Report of the Low Commission report on the future of legal services. But buried in the detail is a number of straws in the wind which are worth noting, even if they don’t make the heart race.

The Paper starts by repeating the point that the Government already provides ‘£1.6 billion to the most vulnerable in society to ensure that they can access legal aid’. It seems to accept, however, that there are some who – at least in some circumstances – should receive legal aid who currently do not get it. The Paper states that the Government ‘will conduct a review into the thresholds for legal aid entitlement, and their interaction with … wider criteria’. This review will be completed by summer 2020.

In the interim there will be changes to eligibility for some public family law cases, to be introduced in summer 2019.

And, whilst the review is ongoing, the Government  will continue with current arrangements to passport all recipients of universal credit through the legal aid means test.

Addressing the problem that people do not know about their entitlement to legal aid, the Government states that it ‘will ensure that more people are aware of their entitlement to legal support – and will advertise its availability’. The stated aim is to launch the awareness programme by autumn 2019 – dealing not just with legal aid, but legal support more generally.

The Government plans to make some changes to protect the most vulnerable. It will expand the scope of legal aid to include separated migrant children in Spring 2019. It also plans to bring forward proposals to expand the scope of legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private family law by Autumn 2019.

As regards Exceptional Case Funding, the Government plans to consider, by the end of 2019, whether the process for applying for Exceptional Case Funding can be simplified, and whether decisions can be reached more quickly. It will also consider whether it is necessary to introduce a new emergency procedure for urgent matters to access Exceptional Case Funding.

By Spring 2020, the Government will amend the rules relating to the ‘mandatory telephone gateway’ so that there can be immediate access to face-to-face advice in discrimination, debt and special educational needs cases. (The telephone option is retained.)

The new Paper accepts that ensuring people can access the right legal support at the right time may help people resolve problems more efficiently and effectively. There is research evidence demonstrating how problems, if left undiagnosed and unresolved, can escalate, cluster, and lead to damaging cycles that are hard to break. However, the Government states that there is limited comprehensive research as to what works best, when, and for whom. Further, whilst it is often suggested that early intervention leads to cost savings, the financial and economic benefits of early advice are difficult to quantify with accuracy. The Government’s response to this challenge is that it wants to pilot and evaluate several different forms of early legal support.

Thus,

  • it will work collaboratively with providers to develop web-based products which bring a range of legal support tools together in one place;
  • it will improve the signposting advice and support available from the existing specialist telephone service and test enhancements to this service;
  • it will use funding to encourage the delivery of legal support through technology;
  • recognising that a comprehensive service may offer people an opportunity to support themselves, the Government will work collaboratively with the legal and advice sector to evaluate the impact of legal support hubs;
  • it will pilot face-to-face early legal advice in a specific area of social welfare law and will evaluate this against technological solutions, bearing in mind costs; and
  • it will enhance the support offered to litigants in person.

All these interventions will be researched to assess what is the best way to help and support those who need it, and whom should be assisted in the provision of legal support. The intention is that there should be outcomes from these initiatives by the end of 2019.

The Government states that it will continue to work across departments to help to improve the quality of decision-making on legal rights. It has been noted on numerous occasions that if decisions are ‘right first time’ this should reduce the need to take cases on appeal.

Key to the modernisation of the justice system is the need to ensure that forms and systems are as simple and straightforward to use as possible, and that the courts and tribunals service enables people to resolve their conflicts as quickly and early as possible. The Government wants to generate momentum in this area, but acknowledges that this is a first step.

It will be important for the Government to continue open and collaborative working with experts over the coming years, identifying and evaluating new ideas. One specific commitment is that the Government plans to set up a Legal Support Advisory Network to make use of external expertise, shape research and evaluation proposals, and potentially explore new research opportunities and collaborations.

As a nod to the problem of whether or not there will be sufficient numbers of people entering this sector of the legal services market, the Government states it will ‘support practitioners to join the legal profession and continue to deliver high quality legal support to people across England and Wales long into the future’.

Specifically there will be a comprehensive review of the criminal legal aid fee schemes and structures, to be completed by Summer 2020.

The full paper can be accessed at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/777036/legal-support-the-way-ahead.pdf

See also Press Release at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-new-vision-for-legal-support

 

 

Post Implementation Review of LASPO 2012 Part 1 (reform of legal aid)

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February 2019 was a busy month for the Ministry of Justice.They published a large number of official documents relevant to the future of the English Legal System.

First up was the long-awaited post-implementation review of the legal aid changes brought about by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), Part 1 which introducted major changes to the legal aid scheme. This is a very long document which concludes, broadly, that not much is going to change, at least in the short-term.

The key objectives of the reforms, as the Government saw them, were

  1. to reduce expenditure on legal aid;
  2. discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense;
  3. target legal aid on those who need it most;
  4. deliver better overall value for the taxpayer.

The Review concludes, in the light of large amounts of evidence it received, that Objective 1 was successfully achieved. In relation to objective 2, the outcomes are unclear. There has been a reduction in clinical negligence litigation, now funded by Conditional Fee Agreements rather than legal aid; but family law litigation is increasing – diverting cases to mediation has not worked. The Review ‘cannot say with certainty’ whether objective 3 has been successful, as there in insufficient evidence from those outside the scope of the current legal aid scheme. They also cannot reach any conclusions regarding Objective 4.

A number of themes also emerged from the Review:

  1. Scope changes undermining value for money: LASPO removed many areas of early civil and family legal advice from the scope of legal aid, restricting it to the most serious cases. It is argued this lack of early intervention in social welfare and private family law generate wider costs as relatively minor legal problems can escalate and cluster into more serious problems.
  2. People who need legal aid cannot access it: LASPO did not substantially reform the financial eligibility requirements but lots of evidence was submitted arguing change was necessary.
  3. Exceptional Case Funding is not working:  There were lots of criticisms over how the scheme operates.
  4. Fees for legal aid work are inadequate:  Many practitioners, especially in criminal law, have argued this is affecting recruitment and retention, potentially creating future problems in provision.
  5. Increases in litigants in person generating costs: by removing funding for legal representation the volume of self-representing litigants has risen.
  6. Advice deserts: people may not able to access advice due to geographical remoteness, or a shortage of supply in their given area.

There was never going to be any chance that, despite the difficulties of assessing whether the objectives for the original legislation had been met and all the other issues the Review identified, the cuts made by LASPO would be restored. The Government has, however, taken modest steps which are worth noting and will be considered in future blog items.

The full report of the Review is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/777038/post-implementation-review-of-part-1-of-laspo.pdf

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 8, 2019 at 11:08 am

Post-implementation Review: Legal Aid – progress report

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The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was a multi-faceted piece of legislation, dealing with a number of issues of great importance to the English Legal System. Part 1 of the Act made provision for major cut-backs in the provision of legal aid. This is now the subject of a Post-Implementation Review (PIR), being conducted by the Ministry of Justice.

A Post-Legislative Memorandum on LASPO was written and published by the Ministry of Justice in October 2017. This set out preliminary views on how the Government thought the reforms were working. This was to be the first step to further inquiry.

I noted the launch of the PIR into Part 1 of LASPO here in March 2018. A brief progress report was published by the Ministry of Justice in June 2018.

This stated, in part,

Ministry of Justice (MOJ) officials have led consultative groups formed from organisations and academics representing a cross section of the justice system. These meetings took place in April 2018 and focused on the four themes:

  • criminal justice,
  • family justice,
  • civil justice and
  • the advice and third sector. ..

Further consultative group meetings have been scheduled later in the year with a focus on how individuals navigate through the justice system at present.

In addition, the review team have been meeting a wide variety of interested parties on an individual and small group basis, in order to gather a broad range of evidence of the impact of the changes to the provision of legal aid made under LASPO. Through all forms of engagement, the review team has so far met with over 50 organisations in order to discuss the impact of LAPSO and many more meetings are planned for the coming months.

Alongside meetings with interested parties and to ensure our review is as informed as possible, the review team is also accepting submissions of evidence.

The deadline for the submission of evidence is this month (September 2018).

It seems unlikely that the final decisions arising from the review will be published before 2019. I stick to my prediction that major change to the legal aid scheme is unlikely to be an outcome of the review, but I would be happy to be proved wrong!

It may also be noted that the Justice Committee has published a report on the impact of changes to the criminal legal aid scheme on practitioners. This urges a full review of Criminal Legal Aid, to start no later than March 2019, to be informed by the work currently being undertaken in the PIR. The Government has yet to respond to this report.

 

The Post-Legislative Memorandum is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655971/LASPO-Act-2012-post-legislative-memorandum.pdf

For the PIR update, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-laspo

For the Select Committee report on Criminal Legal Aid, see https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news-parliament-2017/criminal-legal-aid-report-published-17-19/

 

 

 

Preventing digital exclusion

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A great deal of effort is currently being put into finding ways of using IT to deliver legal services, whether in the form of: providing legal advice and assistance to those who need it;  conducting various types of legal activity/process on-line; dealing with disputes online.

In general, the modernisation of the practice and procedure of the law through IT is to be welcomed. At the same time, there are concerns that some of the most vulnerable in society may be excluded from this brave new world. They may not have easy access to computers, or the ability to use them. In rightly encouraging digital solutions, at the same time policy makers need to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

In a recent policy paper, the human Rights group JUSTICE has drawn attention to the importance of ensuring that people are not excluded from the rapidly developing digital legal world.

In their report Preventing digital exclusion from online justice (published in June 2018), they analysed the potential issues that those engaged in the reform of legal procedures need to bear in mind.

The report makes a number of recommendations, directed primarily at HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They include:

  • Greater investment in “trusted faces” in “trusted places” i.e. services already providing digital support and internet access.
  • Considering the specific challenges of providing support to the digitally excluded, especially hard to reach cohorts – including testing Assisted Digital services in regions where the internet may be difficult to access. (Assisted Digital envisages a flexible mix of telephone, webchat, face-to-face, and paper-based support services. HMCTS is commissioning a programme of work to evaluate what types of support and in what combinations works best.)
  • Paying specific attention to highly digitally excluded groups, like homeless people and detainees.
  • Designing online justice services with an independent “look and feel” to reflect the constitutional independence of the courts.
  • Maximising the benefits of the “multi-channel” approach – helping people move with ease between digital access, phone assistance, face-to-face assistance, and paper.
  • Ensuring online justice services cater for the most affordable and ubiquitous mode of digital interaction: mobile technology.
  • Conducting end-to-end pilots of online justice services, learning from hearing and enforcement stages what is required at earlier stages.
  • Researching how people behave in an online environment and choices between Assisted Digital channels.
  • Collecting and making available the widest range of data possible to support research by external experts.

Internationally, there is a great deal of experiment going on with different forms of communicating advice and assistance. There are being kept under review by Professor Roger Smith who, with funding from the Legal Education Foundation, provides – among other things – an annual review of development in the use of IT to increase access to justice. He also writes a blog which looks in mor detail at specific initiatives relating to trying to improve access to justice – not just through the use of new technologies but also new ways of funding them such as crowd funding.

For those interested in how the application of new technologies might change ways in which the delivery of legal services are undertaken, this is an outstanding resource – full of links to detailed initiatives. At the same time, the need for realism in potential impacts is also stressed. It is important not always to believe the hype surrounding new applications.

The JUSTICE report is at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-report-on-preventing-digital-exclusion/.

The Annual Reviews of digital delivery of legal services can be found at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/digital/digital-report.

Roger Smith’s blog on developments in Law, technology and Access to Justice is at https://law-tech-a2j.org/publications/

Also relevant is the report, published in July 2018, from the Centre for Justice Innovation, which also looks at public attitudes towards the greater use of IT in the justice system.

See http://justiceinnovation.org/portfolio/just-technology-emergent-technologies-justice-system-public-thinks/

 

 

 

Post-legislative scrutiny : LASPO 2012

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The concept of the post-legislative scrutiny was introduced in 2008, following a report on the idea, published by the Law Commission in 2006.

Now called ‘Post Implementation Review’, the Government has decided to subject Part 1 of the  Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012 (LASPO) to such a review. This is the part of LASPO which deals with legal aid.

The effect of LASPO was to make significant cuts to the provision of legal aid in England and Wales. There have been many calls – from the legal profession, from the judiciary and from those working in the advice sector, among others –  for those cuts to be reversed.

The Low Commission (2014) and the Bach Commission’s Report (2017) argued that the cuts had led to legal advice deserts and were having an adverse impact on the citizens’ access to justice.

The Government has recently (March 2018) set out the terms of reference for what it calls the ‘consultation’ phase of the LASPO review and has invited the submission of evidence on the impact of the 2012 changes.

The process is currently being monitored by the Select Committee on Justice. It has recently published correspondence with the Secretary of State for Justice.

It may also be noted that criminal legal aid barristers are currently threatening strike action on the impact of changes to the rates of pay they receive for doing criminal legal aid work.

It is likely that many of the submissions to the review will argue for the restoration of cuts imposed 5 years ago.

My view is that a roll-back to the pre-LASPO position is extremely unlikely. More likely is  a renewed emphasis on ways of improving the provision of front-line advice, to try to enable more people to undertake legal work for themselves. There will also be an emphasis on new processes for handling legal disputes which might be easier for people to operate themselves.

It would be nice to think that the innovative ideas of the Low Commission for a new National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support would be put in place, supported by its proposed National Advice and Legal Support Fund. But, in the absence of strong lobbying from the public in favour of these ideas, I have my doubts as to whether these will gain political traction.

For the terms of reference of the consultation, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/686576/pir-laspo-terms-of-reference.pdf

The Select Committee on Justice is at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 24, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Innovation in the provision of legal advice

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Lawyers do not always get a good press. But an interesting paper, recentlypublished by the Human Rights Group JUSTICE (I declare an interest – I am a member of its Council), shows that there are many who still want to deliver legal services to the most disadvantaged people in our society.

In Innovations in personally-delivered advice: surveying the landscape the paper takes a look at how dedicated lawyers and others in the advice sector have sought to devise new ways of delivering advice to members of the public. The cuts to Legal Aid have not deterred them from wanting to provide a public service.

The importance of these services was stressed both in the Low Commission report in 2015, and the Bach report in 2017 – both of which called for their development. What the JUSTICE report shows is how, in a time of austerity, it is still possible to offer at least some services in new an innovative ways.

A number of important points emerge from the survey:

  1. First is that taking legal advice to places where those who might want that advice go might be more effective than expecting people to come into solicitors’ offices. Thus the report gives examples of outreach work being undertaken in doctors’ surgeries, foodbanks, prisons, ‘pop-up’ clinics in libraries, branches of Tesco, and university Law Clinics.
  2. Second, providers may need to consider new partnerships with both the private and charitable sectors to fund new initiatives. The report gives examples of new partnerships with the private sector (e.g. banks – offering advice on debt ) and the charitable sector (e.g. Dementia UK offering advice for dementia sufferers and carers). Moves towards greater corporate social responsibility may offer new opportunities for innovation.
  3. Thirdly, the report gives examples of advice providers taking advantage of the new rules on Alternative Business Structures to develop new ways of delivering face-to-fact advice services. For example, with Gateshead Enterprises’ Job Law, “the first consultation is free and any further advice required is on a ‘pay as you go’ basis”;  the chargeable advice is half price; and any profits are channelled directly back into Citizens Advice Gateshead to ensure it can continue its work.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive report on everything that is happening in the advice sector. But, given how easy it is to assume from the media that the cuts in legal aid and other sources of funding for the advice sector have almost destroyed the advice sector, I think it important to know that dedicated individuals continue try to deliver a service to those who most need such services. The examples given in this paper show that the green shoots of innovation are, if not yet flourishing, beginning to emerge from a very hard economic climate.

I hope the examples given here will inspire others to bring forward their own ideas and initiatives.

The JUSTICE report is available at https://justice.org.uk/innovations-personally-delivered-advice-surveying-landscape/

Written by lwtmp

March 6, 2018 at 5:19 pm

The Right to Justice: Final Report of the Bach Commission

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In September 2017, the Bach Commission (chaired by Lord Willy Bach) published its report on the Right to Justice. The  Commission was established at the  end  of  2015  to find solutions that will restore access to justice as a fundamental public entitlement.

The commission found  that  the justice  system  is  in  crisis. Most  immediately,  people  are  being  denied  access  to justice  because  the  scope  of  legal  aid  has  been  dramatically  reduced  and  eligibility requirements  made  excessively  stringent. But  problems  extend  very  widely  through the  justice  system,  from  insufficient public   legal   education   and  a  shrinking information and advice sector to unwieldy and  creaking   bureaucratic   systems   and uncertainty about the future viability of the practice of legal aid practitioners.

Covering many of the same issues as the Low Commission (which reported in 2014) this report makes the following specific recommendations.

The commission has concluded that the problems in the justice system are so wide-spread that  there  is  a  need  for a  new  legally  enforceable  right  to  justice,  as part of a new Right to Justice Act. This Act would:

  • codify existing rights to justice and establish  a  new  right  for  individuals to  receive  reasonable  legal  assistance without costs they cannot afford;
  • establish  a  set  of  principles  to  guide interpretation of this new right covering the full spectrum of legal support, from information and advice through to legal representation;
  • establish a new body – the Justice Commission – to  monitor and enforce    this new right.

The  purpose  of  the  Right  to  Justice  Act  is to create a new legal framework that will, over  time,  transform  access  to  justice.

In addition, early government action is also required.

  • Legal   aid   eligibility   rules  must   be reformed,  so  that  the  people  currently unable  either  to  access  legal  aid  or  to  pay  for  private  legal  help  can  exercise their   right   to   justice.
  • The  scope  of  civil  legal  aid,  which  has  been  radically  reduced,  must  be reviewed   and   extended.   In particular, all   matters   concerning  children  should  be  brought  back  into  the  scope  of  legal  aid.
  • An   independent  body that operates the legal aid system at arm’s length from    government  should  replace  the  Legal  Aid  Agency and action must be taken to address the administrative burdens that plague both the public and providers.
  • Public    legal    capability    must    be improved through a national public legal education and advice strategy  that  improves  the  provision  of information,  education  and  advice  in schools and in the community.

My own view is that there is a growing consensus that the cuts to legal aid have gone too far. I have doubts whether there will be a wholesale return to the legal aid system that existed before the programme of cuts that has been going on for the best part of a decade.

This is potentially an important area of policy making. However, when considering new policies:

  1. more attention should be given to new ways of delivering legal services, embracing new technologies that would allow more to be provided for less;
  2. greater consideration of alternative sources of funding for the provision of legal advice and assistance, especially through different forms of insurance;
  3. the legal needs of small and medium size business should be treated as seriously as the legal needs of individuals, and
  4. there should be a recognition that there is scope for ‘do-it-yourself’ lawyering.

The Bach report may be downloaded from http://www.fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Bach-Commission_Right-to-Justice-Report-WEB.pdf

The Report of the Low Commission is at https://www.lowcommission.org.uk/dyn/1389221772932/Low-Commission-Report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf together with a follow up report, published in 2015 at https://www.lowcommission.org.uk/dyn/1435772523695/Getting_it_Right_Report_web.pdf

Written by lwtmp

October 20, 2017 at 1:17 pm