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Crisis in civil legal aid

Crisis in civil legal aid


Providers exiting amidst profitability struggles

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has released its provider survey for the civil legal aid market, shedding light on a dire situation where providers are actively leaving the sector due to financial challenges. The survey, aimed at informing the ongoing Civil Legal Aid Review, paints a bleak picture of the struggles faced by those committed to ensuring access to justice for all.

Key findings from the survey highlight the inability of providers to turn a profit from civil legal aid work. This has prompted a significant number of them to express their intention to exit the sector in the medium term, posing a serious threat to individuals seeking to enforce and defend their rights.

Areas of dissatisfaction among respondents include private practices struggling to make a profit, with 40% indicating plans to leave the sector within the next five years. An overwhelming 82% express dissatisfaction with the fee system, emphasizing the financial hurdles providers face. Additionally, 61% feel unable to build a quality workforce, while 59% are dissatisfied with the decision-making processes of the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).

Richard Atkinson, Vice President of the Law Society of England and Wales, commented on the report, stating that the findings confirm the dire state of the civil legal aid system. He highlights the commitment of the workforce to access to justice but notes that unsustainable fee levels and bureaucratic obstacles from the LAA are driving experienced professionals out of the sector.

The report underlines the grim long-term outlook, particularly due to the shortage of new young lawyers entering the system. Civil legal aid providers have not seen a fee increase since 1996, and a 10% fee-cut in 2011 further exacerbated the financial strain, resulting in a real-terms cut of 49.4% in fees until 2022.

Atkinson warns that 42% of respondents are considering leaving the sector or reducing services in the next year if conditions persist. This is alarming, especially considering the existing legal aid deserts in England and Wales.

The reasons behind providers leaving the sector include financial viability (65%) and difficulties in recruiting necessary staff (28%). Atkinson concludes by urging the government to use this data for the Civil Legal Aid Review and invest in civil legal aid to secure the future of this crucial public service. The implications of the crisis extend beyond financial considerations, affecting families facing eviction, victims of abuse, and vulnerable individuals denied access to entitled care.