Today sees the launch of LegalVoice, a new online magazine for all professionals committed to access to justice – the day after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 received Royal Assent. See below.
LegalVoice is an online magazine about ‘access to justice’. It is aimed at legal aid law firms, the not-for-profit sector and all organisations providing publicly-funded legal advice in the UK. It has been launched against the backdrop of the biggest shake-up of legal aid since a system of publicly-funded law was set up as a key part of the welfare state under the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949.
The idea is for an online magazine that:
- disseminates all the information practitioners need to know about legal aid
- keeps legal aid professionals abreast of the changes in the sector
- delivers insightful commentary and expert analysis; and
- provides a forum for legal aid professional to exchange ideas.
LegalVoice is a not-for-profit venture. Its start-up costs costs have been met by City law firms and other supporters. We are especially grateful to Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Clifford Chance for their generous support. We have also received considerable logistical support from Allen & Overy and Lexis Nexis.
We are being supported by most (if not all representative groups) – see community. If you know a group that is not on the list and should be, then please let us know.
The site has been developed by David Gilmore and Jon Robins with help from Vicky Ling and Matt Howgate. Jon is editor.
We encourage contributions from all professionals committed to access to justice and anyone interested in the sector. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Life after LASPO
Not surprisingly, a theme of the first blogs on LegalVoice address the issue of life after LASPO.
You can read:
- Julie Bishop, of the Law Centre Federation, on what she calls ‘the perfect storm’ heading towards the advice sector.
- Ruth Hayes, director of Islington Law Centre, reports on how they are preparing for post-LASPO world; as does Ian Rathbone from down the road in Hackney Community Law Centre. Two very different approaches to challenges faced by law centres.
‘As LASPO goes to Royal Assent the main discussion amongst Law Centres is: what will happen to our clients? The UK is officially in the worst recession for over 100 years with recovery even slower than predicted. Coupled with welfare reform, the need of our communities for legal assistance is constantly growing. The issue for us will be where to send the people we are no longer funded to help. Is there anyone else who can help them? I suspect not.’
‘We are on the cusp of what we consider a law centre revolution. Serving a deprived but vibrant community in East London for almost 40 years, Hackney Community Law Centre has been considered part of Hackney’s furniture. Now every day, however, we are confronted by the prospect of our demise and very survival.’
‘We already have waiting lists of five weeks for a number of our outreach sessions. LASPO changes will take out 1,416 social welfare cases in Islington – 28 new cases a week. This in an area which has high levels of economic deprivation, and the second highest rate of child poverty in England. We have not yet seen the full impact of welfare reform, and are daily seeing more clients affected by loss of working hours, and cuts in their actual rate of pay.’
Elsewhere, Crispin Passmore, of the Legal Services Board, writes about the role of deregulation in (his words) ‘stimulating innovation’ and Christina Blacklaws, of the Co-op, writes about the retailer’s recent move into legal services.
‘By providing an affordable solution to them we will be helping access to justice and widening the market. People need proper advice so that they can reach solutions which are fair and equitable – ones which are right for everyone That must be good for society and also good for the profession.’
Christina Blacklaws, Co-op
‘Small business and not-for-profit agencies are often at the forefront of radical innovation. Regulators have to take care that any barriers to that innovation are either removed or justified in the public interest.’
Crispin Passmore, LSB
‘I don’t recognise the description of legal aid lawyers as preying on the poor. It may suit the government to say that. This is what I recognise: people who have worked very hard to enter the legal profession, who have often sustained considerable levels of debt to do so, who choose legal aid work because of their belief in the importance of social justice.’
Carol Storer, LAPG
LASPO receives Royal Assent
According to the Ministry of Justice, LASPO introduces a wide range of reforms to the justice system as well as delivering structural reforms to the administration of legal aid. The MOJ says that the Act:
- Ensures that legal aid is available for those who require formal legal advice and assistance and provides access to a range of alternative sources of dispute resolution in appropriate cases
- Increases mediation funding to £25 million a year and provides an additional £20 million a year for the next three years for third sector advice and assistance organisations
- Reforms civil litigation procedures by dealing with disproportionate legal costs, and by capping the amount that lawyers can take in success fees
- Makes referral fees illegal in personal injury cases
- Makes it an offence to threaten people with a knife in public and at schools, with offenders receiving a minimum prison sentence (6 months for adults and a 4 months Detention Training Order for 16 and 17 year olds)
- Makes prisoners work harder, longer and on meaningful tasks, earning money for victims
- Makes it a crime to squat in people’s homes
- Creates a new offence to appropriately punish drivers who seriously injure others by driving dangerously.
The Act also contains a number of new measures to protect the public and reduce reoffending including:
- Creating a new youth remand and sentencing structure, which gives more flexibility to courts to decide on appropriate disposals
- Creating tougher community sentences with longer curfews for offenders
- Giving prosecutors the right to appeal against bail decisions when they think the defendant could be dangerous, or might flee the country
- Reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society after their sentences.
- Creating a tough new sentencing regime to replace the inconsistent Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.
- Doubling to 30 years the starting point for sentences for murders motivated by hate on grounds of disability or transgender – in line with other hate crime murders.
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