Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘legal advice

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/

 

 

 

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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

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