Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘legal advice

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/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Legal advice by not-for-profit agencies

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The impact of cuts to legal aid to the availability of legal advice from advice agencies is the subject of a new study commissioned and published by the Ministry of Justice. Interestingly, the study notes that this is the first time such a survey has been carried out – so it cannot actually answer the question of how many not-for-profit agencies have closed down.

What the researchers were able to do was gather information from over 700 agencies that are still in business, actively offering legal advice to individual clients.

Among the findings are the following which I think are worth noting here:

  • The majority of responding organisations (76%) provided advice on specific subjects, to specific client groups or in specific locations. Only 22% provided a wider range of ‘general’ advice services.
  • Most organisations were well established; 83% reported that they had been providing legal advice for more than ten years. There was also evidence of new organisations emerging as nine percent had entered the sector within the last five years (however this is likely to also include some formed through mergers of pre-existing organisations).
  • The use of digital services over and above email was limited, with only 10% offering online services such as Skype or live chat and just 8% reported offering web-based automated programmes with no advisor input.
  • The categories of law in which advice provision was most commonly offered by responding organisations – welfare benefits, debt and housing – are areas that have largely or partly been removed from legal aid scope under LASPO.
Clients
  • Forty-five percent of organisations reported offering a ‘client-specific’ advice service, of these, the most common client groups were women and older people.
  • Just over half of the responding organisations (51%) reported there were some client or problem types they had been unable to help with in the current financial year.
  • Of these, 62% reported that this was due to a lack of resource, 49% reported that problems fell outside of their remit, and 47% reported not having the appropriate expertise within the organisation.
The overall findings show that while some organisations have seen decreases in funding, client numbers and their workforce since 2013/14, roughly equal proportions of responding organisations have experienced growth in these areas. Changes to the NfP landscape have clearly presented challenges to the sector, with over half of responding organisations reporting that they have made major changes since April 2013 and a substantial proportion expecting to make changes going forward to maintain the stability of service provision.
I think these are interesting results.
1 Clearly there remains a significant appetite from those keen to offer advice services to stay in business and – where possible – to expand their service provision.
2 I am surprised at the lack of investment in IT for the delivery of advice services. I think this is an issue that should be examined further.
3 Now that this baseline data have been assembled it is important that there are regular follow up studies so that we can get a better idea of how this segment of the legal services market is changing.

Written by lwtmp

December 18, 2015 at 4:56 pm

What has happened to Legal Aid?

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The big changes to the legal aid scheme, designed to cut public expenditure on legal aid, were introduced in April 2013, following enactment of LASPO 2012.
The first Annual Report of the Legal Aid Agency has now been published. This provides more information on the direct impact this has had on the amount of legally aided work that has been undertaken in the first 12 months since the Act came into effect.

In summary:

• Total acts of assistance and spend – The LAA continued to fund advice, assistance and representation for eligible individuals across England and Wales by funding 1.8 million acts of assistance overall (Civil Legal Aid and Criminal Legal Aid). [2012-13: 2.3 million]. Total net expenditure was £1,709.5 million. [2012-13: £1,916.7 million].
• Number of providers – As at 31 March 2014 the LAA held 1,435 civil and 1,519 crime contracts [March 2013:1,899 civil and 1,599 crime contracts].
• Civil Legal Aid – The LAA funded 0.50 million Civil Legal Aid acts of assistance overall [2012-13: 0.93 million, a 46% decrease in the year]. Civil Legal Aid net expenditure was £800.9 million [2012-13: £941.6 million].
• Criminal Legal Aid – The LAA funded 1.32 million Criminal Legal Aid acts of assistance [2012-13: 1.36 million, a 3% decrease in the year]. Criminal Legal Aid spend was £908.6 million [2012-13: £975.1 million].

What these figures show is the dramatic impact the cuts in Legal Aid have had on civil legally aided matters. There have been huge falls, both in the numbers of acts of assistance, and in the numbers of those with civil legal aid contracts with the Legal Aid Agency. By comparison, criminal legal aid has suffered less, though well publicised actions in particular by the Bar indicate that the fees payable for legally aided work in crime have been subject to considerable constraint.

Lawyers will of course deplore these trends. But it has to be said that there is no indication of any political will to restore funding to the legal aid scheme. This appears to be the start of a new reality, a context in which rather different forms of service delivery to the public will have to be devised.

The LAA Annual report is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/legal-aid-agency-annual-report-and-accounts-2013-to-2014

Written by lwtmp

July 31, 2014 at 10:09 am

Delivering legal services to the public in an age of austerity

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Like it or not, there is widespread acknowledgement that the funding of legal aid is not going to be restored to pre-Government cut levels. But knowing how to respond to this gloomy prediction is not easy. The Nuffield Foundation has recently published (February 2014) a really interesting research report which, drawing from international examples, offers many ideas for how we might deliver services effectively in this country as well. It deserves widespread attention.

The report concluded that websites, telephones, video communication and other means of digital communication can, if properly used, assist in maintaining access to justice in a time of austerity.

In their report, the researchers (Prof Alan Paterson and Roger Smith) emphasise the need to devise models of delivery that take account of the fact that not everyone can use websites and telephones. They also highlight the example of NHS Direct, an integrated telephone and internet project, unfortunately abolished just as it seemed to producing results.

However the report says that much could be done through:

  • Leadership from the Ministry of Justice in maintaining access to justice despite austerity cuts – a positive commitment to helping citizens to help themselves where they can and continued free access to legislation and cases.
  • The fostering of innovation through awards, recognition and, as in the US Legal Services Corporation’s Technical Innovation Grants programme, funds for strategic projects.
  • Rigorous testing of channels of delivery including the use of dummy clients.
  • Integrated ‘digital first’ but not ‘digital only’ delivery as happens in jurisdictions like New South Wales and New Zealand where internet advice is linked with telephones and face to face provision if required.
  • Dynamic digital systems that assist a person through a process such as obtaining a divorce, for example, the rechtwijzer.nl site in The Netherlands.

These are findings that fit well with the conclusions of the Low Commission, also published in early 2014.

The text of the Paterson-Smith report is at http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/face-face-legal-services-and-their-alternatives-global-lessons

The final report of the Low Commission is at http://www.lowcommission.org.uk/

Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

Co-operative Legal Services: Podcast with Christina Blacklaws

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Co-operative Legal Services was the first large organisation to be authorised by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority as an Alternative Business Structure. In this podcast, I talk to Christina Blacklaws, Head of Policy of Co-operative Legal Services.
She explains how the Co-op wanted to move into the legal services market by building on advice services they had for many year provided to their members. There is still a lot of emphasis on helping people to help themselves. But they wanted to be able to offer full legal services for members (and other members of the public) on issues that affect their daily lives, for example moving house, consumer matters, employment matters, family matters, housing matters, probate issues.
The new service is based in the fundamental values of the Cooperative movement.
3 hubs – in Manchester, Bristol and London – are supported by other staff in the Co-op – e.g. in their banks. They also work with other agencies, e.g. Shelter.
She argues that they key to their service is transparent pricing: each issue brought to the service is broken down into segments and clients pay for those segments of the service that they want.
She also argues that the structure of Co-operative Legal Services is an attractive environment for staff; there are opportunities for staff to develop legal skills to enable them to develop their full potential as lawyers.
To hear what Christina has to say go to http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/orc/resources/law/els/partington13_14/student/podcasts/Blacklaws.mp3

For more information about Co-op Legal Services go to http://www.co-operativelegalservices.co.uk/

Written by lwtmp

January 23, 2014 at 10:24 am