Thursday 7 February 2019 4:01 pm

Government promises £8m for court system in review of legal aid reforms

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) today announced an £8m investment in the court system as part of a review of the comprehensive changes to the legal aid system made in 2013.

The MOJ said it would invest £5m in technology to improve the functioning of the system and a further £3m to support those representing themselves in court.

The reforms brought in by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Laspo) aimed to cut the legal aid bill and greatly reduced the number of people who received publicly funded legal representation.

This dramatically increased the number of people representing themselves in court, so-called litigants in person, which threatened to clog the system because the individuals often had little idea of how the courts worked.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: “We have carefully considered the responses in this review and will expand the scope of legal aid to cover new areas of family law, launch a review of legal aid eligibility thresholds, invest up to £5 million in delivering innovative services and test new methods of support to help people resolve their problems quickly and easily, in the way that best works for them.”

Other changes include a review of the threshold for legal aid entitlement and wider eligibility criteria and amendments to the exceptional case funding process to make it easier for people to access legal aid where there is a risk of a breach of human rights.

Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council slammed the reforms, saying the money promised was “but a drop in the ocean given the impact Laspo has had on restricting individuals' access to justice.

He added: “We fully understand that the MOJ is constrained by budgetary limits, but this review provides clear evidence that the Treasury must find a way to properly fund the justice system and reverse a decade of cuts.”

Christina Blacklaws, the president of the Law Society, said the review "represents the first time in over twenty years that we have seen wide-ranging government proposals to improve the system rather than to make further cuts."

“If people cannot access advice or protect their rights, then effectively those rights do not exist. The proposed plan signals hope that fewer people will be denied justice simply because they cannot afford it," she said.