The government has quietly revealed that it will embark on a major review of civil legal aid – but the chief executive of a practitioner group warns it could be too little, too late to prevent the sector shrinking further.
The Legal Aid Agency announced yesterday that it was extending 2018 standard civil contracts until 31 August 2024 ‘to allow us time to consider findings from the planned Ministry of Justice Civil Legal Aid Review’.
The ministry has repeatedly told the Gazette that the government has been conducting an internal review on civil legal aid sustainability. Yesterday’s announcement appears to be the first official confirmation of a major review.
A spokesperson for the MoJ told the Gazette today that more detail on the terms of reference and process for the review will be announced shortly.
As well as the findings of its internal sustainability review, the ministry will have a wealth of research to feed into the review, including the Law Society’s review on sustainability and the findings of the Legal Aid Practitioner Group’s legal aid census.
After conducting what is believed to be the biggest inquiry on legal aid, the Westminster Commission on Legal Aid published a 95-page report this time last year. The House of Commons justice select committee also conducted an inquiry on the future of legal aid.
According to government figures, there were 1,369 providers with civil contracts in February 2022. There were 2,134 providers in April 2012 – a year before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force. LASPO removed vast areas of law – such as housing family, immigration, employment and welfare benefits – out of scope for legal aid. The LAA has repeatedly had to plug gaps in advice provision, particularly in housing.
Law Society president I.