The legal aid system focuses resources on areas of greatest need—particularly the socially excluded and the types of problems they may face. Most civil legal aid is means tested, and those in receipt of certain passporting benefits are provided with legal aid without having to make any financial contribution. Under criminal legal aid, free advice and assistance is available to suspects at the police station. Whilst legal representation for defendants at the Crown court is not means tested, defendants at the magistrates court must be financially eligible, although a range of passporting provisions exempt certain vulnerable groups from this test. Since the introduction of the Access to Justice Act 1999, all legal aid providers have to meet strict quality standards.
The current programme of legal aid reform is designed to maximise value for money from legal aid spending, so that the Legal Services Commission can fund assistance to as many people as possible within the available resources. At the same time reform is designed to maintain, and where possible improve, the quality of advice provided.