Could legal aid reform be on MPs’ agenda?

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The much-anticipated House of Commons Justice Select Committee report on the Future of Legal Aid has warned that the system is in urgent need of reform to ensure the most vulnerable people have access to justice. We couldn’t agree more.

The LASPO reforms of 2013 eliminated legal aid for the vast majority of family cases, with the result that we now have a legal aid framework where firms are not supported to provide early legal advice – a crucial component for preventing family problems from escalating. The reforms were a key driver in why Resolution launched the Affordable Advice project, in partnership with Advicenow. It provides an avenue for some of those people to access legal advice and support through what can be a complex and daunting system.

So, it is somewhat heartening to see MPs are finally on the same page as us agreeing that the provision of early legal advice can help make the court work much more effectively, for both our members and their clients. The Justice Select Committee praised the MoJ’s recent Family Mediation Voucher Scheme, welcoming it as a positive step to help separating parents, and said that if early legal advice was available alongside mediation, more couples would seek this option successfully. As I have said before, the voucher scheme is a welcome initiative to help separating families, but much, much more action is needed.

Notably, the Future of Legal Aid report considers our proposals for a “family law credit”, originally outlined in our 2015 Manifesto for Family Law, as a possible model for widening access to early advice. Separating families would be offered an initial meeting with a family lawyer to help them gather the evidence they need in order to access legal aid, or to discuss their options, ensuring a more cohesive and constructive approach from the start of proceedings.

There’s much more to digest from the 80-page report, which our Legal Aid Committee will evaluate. I’d like to thank that Committee for preparing Resolution’s submission, with particular thanks to its co-chair, Elspeth Thomson, for giving high-value and compelling evidence to the Justice Select Committee and making sure Resolution continues to influence important policy makers.

This article originally appeared in issue 213 of The Review.