The LASPO reforms have failed to meet its aims and created an ‘unfair and inefficient justice system’, argued the Bar Council this week. In new research on the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, revealed that more than nine out of 10 (91%) respondents reported the number of individuals struggling to get access to advice and representation had increased significantly.
Barristers were interviewed by the Bar Council. The research revealed that more than three-quarters of respondents (77%) reported a significant increase in the number of litigants in person and almost a quarter of respondents have stopped doing legal aid work.
‘LASPO has failed,’ said Andrew Walker QC, chair of the Bar. ‘Whilst savings have been made to the Ministry of Justice’s budget spreadsheets, the Government is still unable to show that those savings have not been diminished or extinguished, or even outweighed, by knock-on costs to other government departments, local authorities, the NHS and other publicly funded organisations.’
Nor did the Bar accept that the reforms achieve its stated aims: to discourage unnecessary litigation or ensure that legal aid was targeted at those who need it. ‘If anything, LASPO has had the opposite effect, and has denied access to the justice system for individuals and families with genuine claims, just when they need it the most,’ Walker said.
The Bar Council also queried whether the the MoJ had collected the necessary evidence about the impact of LASPO and whether the department had commissioned ‘meaningful research about the consequential costs LASPO has caused to other government departments’.
‘LASPO has not just failed: it has caused untold damage to our justice system and to access to justice. The Ministry and the Government cannot and must not hide from this. The review itself cannot and must not gloss over what barristers and other legal professionals, the judiciary and the public are seeing happening in our courts. The fact there are significant delays in the family and civil courts is a red flag. For those at the front-line, the results are clear: the true costs of LASPO, and the harm it has caused, are far greater than the Government has admitted. We need a significant change of direction to rectify five years of failure.’
Andrew Walker QC
The Bar Council has called for the following steps to be taken as a ‘priority’:
- Crime: reverse the ‘innocence tax’ upon those acquitted of criminal offences who are unable fully to recover the reasonable costs of a privately funded defence;
- Family: reintroduce legal aid in a range of family law proceedings, including for respondents facing allegations of domestic abuse and for private law children proceedings;
- Civil: reintroduce a legal help scheme for welfare benefit cases;
- Coroner inquests: relax the criteria for exceptional case funding where the death occurred in the care of the state and the state has agreed to provide separate representation for one or more interested persons; and
- Means testing: introduce a simplified and more generous calculation of disposable income and capital so that the eligibility threshold, and contribution requirements, are no longer an unaffordable barrier to justice.
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