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Legal Aid systems in crisis: urgent action needed

Legal Aid systems in crisis: urgent action needed


As the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) convenes for an oral evidence session, the Law Society has put forth urgent recommendations aimed at addressing the critical issues plaguing these vital services

The Law Society of England and Wales has sounded the alarm on the dire state of both civil and criminal legal aid systems, highlighting significant challenges to their long-term sustainability. 

In response to the PAC's inquiry on Value for Money from Legal Aid, the Law Society has urged immediate action from the UK government:

  1. Investment in Civil Legal Aid: The government should inject £11.3 million into civil legal aid to boost fees for early legal advice, particularly crucial amid the ongoing Civil Legal Aid Review.
  2. Increase in Criminal Legal Aid Rates: The Law Society advocates for a 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates, aligning with recommendations from the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review (CLAIR).
  3. Data Collection and Representation: The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) must collaborate with law enforcement and the judiciary to gather accurate data and representation, essential for understanding and addressing disparities in accessing criminal legal aid.

Nick Emmerson, President of the Law Society, emphasises the acute crisis faced by both civil and criminal legal aid systems. He underscores the systemic issues stemming from decades of underinvestment and inadequate pay rates, resulting in service providers exiting the market and severe challenges in recruitment and retention.

Emmerson stresses the importance of heeding evidence collected in reviews like CLAIR and taking swift action to improve the sustainability of legal aid provision. He warns of dire consequences if access to justice is further compromised due to lack of investment and support.

On civil legal aid, Emmerson highlights the pressing need for increased funding to prevent homelessness, alleviate debt burdens, and safeguard access to welfare benefits for vulnerable individuals and families.

Regarding criminal legal aid, Emmerson raises concerns about the alarming exodus of duty solicitors from the profession due to financial unviability. He warns of the repercussions of inadequate representation, emphasising the potential dangers to society.

Emmerson also calls attention to the inadequate data collection practices of the MoJ and Legal Aid Agency, stressing the importance of understanding the impact of funding cuts and policy changes on legal aid accessibility.

In conclusion, the Law Society's urgent call for action underscores the critical importance of preserving access to justice for all individuals, regardless of their financial circumstances. Immediate investment and comprehensive reforms are essential to prevent further erosion of these fundamental pillars of the legal system.