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Legal Aid

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

I am publishing today the report of Sir Ian Magee’s review into legal aid delivery and governance and announcing the Government’s decision to move the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

I asked Sir Ian to conduct this review, which was announced in October 2009, to ensure that the legal aid budget is delivering value for money, providing a healthy and sustainable future for social welfare advice as well as considering how best to position and protect the civil fund from the criminal fund. I am extremely grateful to Sir Ian for his work.

Sir Ian’s report makes a number of recommendations to strengthen and improve the legal aid system including actions to strengthen governance and accountability arrangements, streamline policy and to establish a more rigorous approach towards legal aid fund forecasting and financial management. His report includes the option of moving the LSC to an executive agency.

It is 10 years since the LSC was established and in that time there have been considerable changes in the type of legal advice and services that the public needs. The UK has one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world and the Government are committed to ensuring legal aid is managed effectively so that more people are able to access it to resolve their legal problems. In the current climate, it is even more important that this public money is managed efficiently and effectively. It is the right time to make some meaningful changes now that will help us protect and sustain the world-class legal aid service that we are so proud to deliver to England and Wales. The Government believe that an executive agency is the best option for the delivery of legal aid and a Bill will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows. Over the coming weeks, we will consider Sir Ian’s other recommendations which will be taken forward in parallel with the move to agency status.

The change in status will see a new and stronger relationship between the MoJ and the LSC and tighter financial control over the £2.1 billion budget, which allows the MoJ to help control and address some of the financial problems that have been noted over the past year. It also presents an opportunity for the Government to consider Sir Ian’s other options for structuring the delivery of legal aid, including through devolving budgets, to help protect funding for social welfare legal advice from rising demand for criminal legal aid.

Alongside today’s publication, the chief executive of the LSC, Carolyn Regan, has announced her resignation to allow for new leadership during a time of change for the organisation. Carolyn Regan has served as the chief executive of the LSC for three and a half years.