The Government’s long-awaited review into legal aid cuts (as introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 or LASPO) was published last week by the Ministry of Justice.
As noted by Free Movement, when it comes to legal aid for immigration, the review proposes no significant changes.
Free Movement reported: “Despite evidence of the impact of cuts over the past five years, and the role that legal aid would have played in preventing the Windrush scandal, the Ministry of Justice has refused to roll back [LASPO] as it relates to immigration work. The sole exception is an amendment granting legal aid to unaccompanied migrant children.”
The Bar Council responded to the review by saying: “The Bar Council is disappointed with the Government’s post-implementation review of [LASPO] published today. When the Bar Council gave evidence to the Ministry of Justice last year on the impact of the LASPO cuts to legal aid we identified five priorities to help reverse the decline in legal aid provision over almost six years. Few have been addressed.”
The Law Society was more positive and said the review’s proposals were a shift in the right direction. In a statement, the Law Society said: “The proposals reflect a considerable number of the recommendations we put forward. The Ministry has accepted the case for changes in relation to the legal aid means test, exceptional case funding and early legal advice, and has committed to further work as to what those changes should look like. There are also to be specific changes immediately in relation to migrant children, special guardianship orders and the telephone gateway for discrimination, debt and special educational needs. There is much to be welcomed.”
The Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) said: “The report is an overdue recognition of the crisis in access to justice, triggered by LASPO. Many of the recommendations for the future are positive, but much more is needed to remedy the legal aid and justice system now.”
According to the review, the effect of LASPO on legal help for non-asylum immigration cases has been an 85% reduction in volume and an 80% reduction in spending in 2017-18 over 2012-13. In terms of full representation, the volume of cases is 60% lower and the spending is 64% lower.
The review states: “Some stakeholders asserted that many solicitors had abandoned legal aid work, leading to advice deserts for certain categories of law, particularly immigration and housing.”
As noted in the review, Refugee Action suggests that 56% of immigration and asylum providers have left the market since 2005.