I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Justice will create the Legal Aid Agency, a new executive agency, on 1 April 2013.
The Legal Aid Agency will assume responsibility for the administration of legal aid in England and Wales from the Legal Services Commission, a non-departmental public body. On 1 April 2013 the Legal Services Commission will be abolished and the Lord Chancellor will become responsible for securing that legal aid is made available in England and Wales, in line with the provisions contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. That Act also contains the legislative provisions needed to abolish the Legal Services Commission.
Today the framework document which details the governance arrangements between the Department and the Legal Aid Agency has been published. The framework document will come into force on 1 April 2013. In line with the requirements for all executive agencies, the framework document sets out the overarching framework for the governance and accountability arrangements between the Department and the agency.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 also requires the Lord Chancellor to designate a civil servant as the director of legal aid casework. This is a statutory office, with the function of making independent decisions on whether to grant legal aid in individual cases. The director will assume this function on 1 April 2013, following the abolition of the Legal Services Commission. I have designated Matthew Coats as the first director of legal aid casework.
The creation of the Legal Aid Agency is an important step for the Ministry of Justice in strengthening the governance arrangements and accountability for legal aid, and ensuring that there is an appropriate delivery structure in place. Legal aid is a significant area of public expenditure and it is vital that its administration is undertaken by an appropriate body.
Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will be commenced on 1 April 2013. Part 1 sets out the new framework for legal aid in England and Wales which, as well as the abolition of the Legal Services Commission, includes reforms to the scope of civil legal aid.
Copies of the framework document and code of conduct have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Department’s website at: www.justice. gov.uk.