The Justice Committee has called for an urgent review of the changes which were made to civil legal aid in 2013.
Recent government cuts have reduced the number of people who are eligible for state-funded legal help, which has impacted heavily on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Those seeking legal help with family and social welfare law cases have been badly affected. The cuts mean many patients who wish to bring cases against the NHS, those fighting benefits and housing cases and people engaged in divorce or child contact disputes are no longer eligible for state funded support in their legal battles.
The Justice Committee report has confirmed what many solicitors have said ever since the cuts were introduced: the government’s policy has failed to meet three of the four objectives they promised to achieve.
According to the Justice Committee the failures of the swingeing cuts are as follows:
- Failed to ensure change has brought about better value for money for the taxpayer.
- Failed to discourage unnecessary litigation.
- Failed to ensure legal aid is delivered to those who need it the most.
The report has highlighted several examples of cases which should have been eligible for legal aid only for the concerned parties to be denied it, ultimately resulting in increased court time at greater public expense and with undesirable outcomes for all parties.
The report also touched on the fact court fees have also been increased, with some now up to 600 per cent higher than before. This is likely to cause problems for small and medium sized businesses which use the courts to recover debts owed on unpaid invoices.
The Justice Committee has made several recommendations in its report and has urged the Government to take them into consideration. The recommendations include the following:
- Amendments to the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012, to give the Legal Aid Agency discretion to grant legal aid in appropriate cases involving domestic violence.
- To correct the management of the exceptional cases funding scheme, so it works as Parliament had intended it to.
- To make available more concise information on how legal aid eligibility works.
- To improve the monitoring of the geographical distribution of legal aid providers.
- To completely rethink the Legal Aid Agency’s approach in many areas.
- To provide free mediation assessments over the coming year.
Please feel free to contact our friendly Plymouth family solicitors with any questions you may have about this news and your eligibility for legal aid.