Legal Aid review a welcome first step, but more must be done to reverse damage of cuts, say family lawyers.
The Ministry of Justice has today (Thursday) published its long-awaited review into the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which led to £350m of cuts to legal aid each year from 2013.
The national organisation representing family lawyers, Resolution, has cautiously welcomed parts of the review, but said the government must go much further in committing funds to addressing some of the fundamental problems caused by the cuts.
Speaking in response to the review, Jo Edwards, who Chairs Resolution’s Family Law Group, said:
“We welcome certain aspects of this review; for example, the commitment to expand legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private family law, and reviewing the legal aid means test. We also note there is an implicit acknowledgement of the damage LASPO has done to access to justice in England and Wales.
“However, the simple fact is that, without access to tailored legal advice, many vulnerable individuals will be left to deal with the family courts with little or no help. The £8m of funding – across all areas of the law – represents little more than 2% of the £350m of annual cuts to the legal aid budget. Nobody was expecting this review to entirely reverse the cuts, but the commitment from government to early intervention, for example, has to be backed up by meaningful funding. Otherwise children and families across the country will continue to suffer from a lack of access to justice.
“Without legal advice, couples and individuals are less likely to resolve matters away from the court, and more likely to face lengthy delays within a creaking court system. If government is serious about reducing conflict and stress for couples and families in dispute, it needs to go further and ensure that everyone who needs it has access to early legal advice, to enable them to make informed choices about their options. These choices have a fundamental long-term impact on families and children, and it is vital that people are properly supported – not just for those individuals, but for society as a whole.
“Whilst we hope this review marks the first step in a change of tone from the government, our fear and our experience suggests the measures today amount to no more than a sticking plaster. Nevertheless, we will continue to stand up for our members and their clients, and keep on making the case to Ministers and officials on the need for new ways to ensure people have access to the right advice at the right time.”