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MPs release damning report into Ministry of Justice’s legal aid cuts

PAC: MoJ does not know if cuts to civil legal aid budget represent value for money

4 February 2015

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The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for its cuts to civil legal aid.

The PAC said the MoJ was still playing 'catch up' almost two years after the introduction of LASPO.

In its most damning statement, the report claims the MoJ has 'little interest' in the knock-on costs of its reforms across the public sector and, therefore, does not know whether the £300m worth of cuts is outweighed by costs elsewhere.

The MoJ was also criticised for being slow to fill the gaps in its understanding, and has still not properly assessed the full impact of the reforms.

The PAC also found that the quality of face-to-face legal aid remains unacceptably low. MPs said the MoJ does not know if eligible members of the public are able to access legal aid.

Further, the report criticised the Legal Aid Agency for not understanding the link between the price it pays providers and the quality of the advice.

The PAC said that the 10 per cent cuts to legal aid providers came after a 15-year period in which legal aid fees were not adjusted for inflation, which represented a real terms cut of 34 per cent.

The highly critical report continued by claiming that the ministry's approach to implementing the reforms has inhibited access to mediation for family law cases and that it cannot manage the impact of the increase in litigants in person, as it still does not understand the impact that they have on the courts service.

Commenting on the report, National Family Mediation chief executive, Jane Robey, said: "The report rightly criticises the government's failure to see how removing legal aid funding would reduce the number of referrals from solicitors to family mediation.

"As far as family mediation is concerned, the government was in denial about the impact assessment undertaken prior to implementation of the Act. And as we had predicted, it led to the near-collapse of what had previously been a strong nationwide family mediation network. The government too slowly learned the lessons taught by the devastating impact of legal aid cuts."

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter added: "This is the most damning attack on the coalition's civil legal aid policy yet. It exposes the shambolic way ministers went about their reforms, and the utter lack of understanding of how the changes would leave access to justice the preserve of the rich and our courts clogged full of litigants in person.

"Despite being warned that victims of domestic violence would struggle demonstrating their eligibility for legal aid after the government's reforms they went ahead with them anyway, leaving many without any legal support whatsoever. Despite the enormous hardship these reforms have caused, ministers still have no plans, or inclination, to do anything about alleviating the damaging impact of their reforms on our justice system."

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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