Questions still unanswered on changes to legal support for the vulnerable

CILEx Press Release

In its response to the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps’ consultation, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has said too many questions remain unanswered for these proposals to be introduced as planned.

CILEx, the professional association for vocationally trained paralegals, lawyers and legal professionals, identified a number of unresolved issues in their consultation response submitted today. These included:

· Whether the proposed savings made by changes to legal aid for prisoners will in fact cost more than they save, and what the impact will be on children and vulnerable people in prison.

· What impact the household financial threshold will have when the results of proceedings are themselves the cause of financial hardship.

· How the arbitrary residence test will be applied in determining legal residence in the absence or unavailability of documentation, or in situations of trafficking, forced marriage, or where the individual lacks mental capacity.

· Whether enough consideration has been given to the impact of the residence test increasing the financial burden on the local authority social services departments and ultimately local council tax payers.

· Whether exceptional funding can truly be relied upon in place of genuine access to justice in the first instance, when less than 2% of applications are successful because of bureaucratic red tape resulting in an onerous, expensive and time-consuming process.

· Why inefficiencies in the system are not being tackled first, before resorting to drastic cuts to support for vulnerable people. (Inefficiencies such as those present within the Courts and Police Stations, the Court Interpreter Scheme, as well as with the CPS and the Legal Aid Agency).

· How the impact of legal aid cuts can be accurately assessed when those that have already been introduced have not had time to bed in, and at a time of falling crime rates.

· What impact reducing fees for experts will have on equality of arms between parties when the Government’s own experts are paid more.

· Despite retaining the principle of client choice, whether the market place will be so diminished as to effectively mean clients will have very little real choice.

·Whether the Government will include a no fault termination clause because new contracts are not sufficiently long enough to avoid firms being considered a financial risk to a bank.

· Whether pragmatic concerns around the new contractual geographical areas, such as journey time and infrastructure, will make some contracts unworkable.

· Whether there are enough proposed duty rota contracts in some areas to ensure conflicts of interest are effectively mitigated against.

· Whether a quality national service can truly be provided by a market consisting of unstable firms, who in order to win contracts will have been forced to make cuts and redundancies, but who will then need to demonstrate how they are going to cope with potentially an increased geographical area to cover and an increase in volume of work, which itself is not guaranteed.

CILEx President, Stephen Gowland, said: “There is a place for these questions to be asked and debated, and that is Parliament. These proposals must be put before Parliament for full debate and scrutiny. Government should pause, reflect and adapt their proposals based not on ideology, but on the evidence at hand.”

You can read the full response here.

Consula's Martin Callan has been a vocal supporter of the Access to Justice campaign and continues to lobby against further cuts to legal aid and changes to the legal market which are resulting in more and more peoiple being denied legal representation or access to the Courts.