MPs in warning over legal aid cuts
Civil legal aid cuts have limited access to justice for those who need financial support the most, a group of MPs have warned in a damning report.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has failed to achieve value for money for the taxpayer through changes brought in through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Laspo), which removed large areas of law from the scope of civil legal aid, t he Justice Committee said.
Efforts to target legal aid at those who most need it focused on intervention aimed at the point after a crisis has already developed, rather than on prevention, the Committee said, creating further knock-on costs.
Since the Laspo reforms came into effect, there has been a significant underspend in the civil legal aid budget because the MoJ failed to ensure that those who are eligible for legal aid are able to access it, the group of MPs added.
Committee chair Sir Alan Beith said: "The urgency of the financial situation in which this country found itself in 2010 meant that the MoJ was faced with difficult decisions - making £2 billion of savings from a budget of £9.8 billion was clearly a very challenging target and it was successfully achieved.
"But this has limited access to justice for some of those who need legal aid the most and in some instances has failed to prevent cases becoming more serious and creating further claims on the legal aid budget.
"Many of the problems which we have identified could have been avoided with better research, a better evidence base to work from, and better public information about the reforms.
"It is vitally important that the MoJ work to remedy this from now on, so that a review of the policy can be undertaken."
The Committee also concludes that the exceptional cases funding scheme - designed to act a safety net for the most vulnerable - has also failed.
Insufficient weight has been given to access to justice in the grant-making process, the MPs said.
The Government's reforms have also led to an increase in the number of litigants in person, that is, people who have no choice but to represent themselves.