Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Legal aid - "Westminister Commission" report

"The legal aid system as it stands is not sufficient. Nor is it sustainable."

That is the summary by the Westminster Commission on legal aid set out in a 177 page report issued on 19 October 2021 (pdf).

The Commission is an All Party Parliamentary Group - see its website

The report sets out the significant changes made to legal aid in the 8 years since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and provides a useful as well as detailed analysis of the current position.

The Foreword to the report notes -

"All through the Inquiry, and threaded through this report – has been the recurrent theme: ‘There can be no justice without access to the means of securing justice. There can be no rights without means of enforcing those rights’. As we heard, however, the system is buckling, and the demands and pressures of covid have only intensified what was a service already under significant stress. We are also aware that the Legal Aid Census – the largest ever workforce survey undertaken into the legal aid sector is due to publish its results shortly. We await this with interest. The legal aid system depends on being able to recruit and retain excellent lawyers and to serve all parts of the country, but increasingly that can no longer be relied upon. The time to act is now."

Of course we already knew that legal aid provision is insufficient and has resulted in far too many individuals having to represent themselves before courts and tribunals. Furthermore, inquests continue to be a significant area where legal aid for representation is not available apart from exceptional circumstances.

The further and deeper question is what, if anything, will the government do about this. The future of our system of justice depends on it.  The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy, has yet to report.

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