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Legal Aid Reform

Volume 505: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2010

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach, has made the following written ministerial statement:

Between 16 July and 8 October 2009 the Ministry of Justice consulted on changes to legal aid funding rules. “Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases” set out a range of proposals to tighten the civil and criminal legal aid funding rules to target resources more effectively.

On 14 December the Department published its response on the proposal to remove advice to prisoners on treatment matters from the scope of criminal legal aid. In that response we set out that we would retain funding for serious treatment issues, but that this would be subject to approval from the Legal Services Commission on a case-by-case basis.

Today, the Department has published its response on the civil legal aid proposals set out in “Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases”. Having taken into account the strong representations we received from interested parties, we will no longer be proceeding with some of the changes proposed, and others have been modified in response to stakeholder concerns. We intend to make a number of changes to civil legal aid to:

Improve the way that cases involving human rights or public interest are handled by transferring cases that depend on these issues to receive funding to a new committee for advice on their merits. This will help to ensure that legal aid is awarded to meritorious cases.

Ensure that cases granted legal aid on the basis that the proceedings will bring benefits to others have a realistic prospect of delivering such wider benefits.

Detect fraudulent legal aid applications earlier, by checking with the unfunded opponent to ensure that the applicant is financially eligible for legal aid, with safeguards for domestic violence or urgent cases.

Tighten the funding rules for granting legal aid for judicial review cases to ensure that funding is directed towards meritorious cases.

Restrict funding for low-value damages claims brought as part of a multi-party action. This will help to ensure that limited resources are available for higher-value cases, or cases brought by individuals.

Tighten access to civil legal aid in England and Wales for those who do not reside in the UK or associated territories, with safeguards for important human rights cases. Non-residents who are present will still have access to funding for asylum, immigration, domestic violence, child protection, mental health or capacity detention, and emergency housing cases.

Ensure that where legal aid funds a community action, the legal aid contribution mirrors the proportion of the affected population who are actually eligible for legal aid.

We intend to implement these changes in April, following Parliamentary consideration of the changes to the funding code and regulations. I have placed a copy of the consultation response in the Libraries of both Houses.