Legal aid news - 20 Oct 2014

  • The Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) annual conference was held on 10 October 2014. The conference theme was successful strategies for the future and it featured a number of workshops, including a careers panel session arranged by YLAL and a seminar on public interest challenges, also hosted by YLAL. A report of the conference prepared by YLAL members will be on our website and the Legal Voice website in the near future.
     
  • Following the judgment of the Administrative Court in the successful judicial review of the consultation on criminal legal aid, the Ministry of Justice announced a further three week consultation which closed on 15 October 2014. YLAL provided a response to the consultation and we are grateful to all members who provided individual responses. The Ministry of Justice’s response to the further consultation, in which it will announce the number of duty contracts that will be available, is awaited.
     
  • The All Party Group on Legal Aid held its latest meeting at Parliament on 16 October 2014. The subject of the meeting was access to justice for children and young people, with speakers presenting evidence of the impact of cut backs so far and briefing members on aspects of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently about to reach report stage.
     
  • The Guardian reported that criminal solicitors at TV Edwards have been asked to take a 4% pay cut or face losing their jobs, following the first 8.75% cut in fees for criminal legal aid work imposed by the Ministry of Justice in March 2014. The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) voiced concerns in the same article that up to two-thirds of criminal solicitors could lose their jobs and that firms will increasingly recruit unqualified paralegals to undertake criminal legal aid work.
     
  • The Telegraph reported that Britain has the largest legal aid budget in Europe, at £2 billion compared to a European average of £97 million, according to a report by the Council of Europe. The article noted that the per capita spend on legal aid in England and Wales is only exceeded by Norway.
     
  • The Law Society Gazette article about the report referred to above, however, noted that 1.8% of public spending is devoted to the justice system as a whole in England and Wales, below the European average of 2.2%. The Law Society itself emphasised the need for context when comparing figures from countries with different legal systems: “The inquisitorial system used in Europe means that the cost of investigations fall more on judges’ budgets than lawyers and so countries’ systems cannot be compared like for like.”
     
  • The Daily Mail write-up of the Council of Europe report failed to provide such context, simply reporting that “Britain’s spending on legal aid dwarfs that of every other country in Europe”. The Daily Mail did, at least, report on opposition to legal aid cuts by prominent members of the profession including Maura McGowan QC and Geoffrey Robertson QC.
     
  • Jon Robins at Legal Voice covered the reaction to the report by the Adam Smith Institute, which declared: “Yes, we do have a large legal aid bill; and so we should”. The Institute, commonly described as a right-wing think tank which says it works to promote libertarian and free market ideas, recognised the inherent structural differences between our adversarial legal system and the inquisitorial systems in place throughout the rest of Europe. It explained that costs in our system are differently apportioned and that, “justly and rightly”, that leads to a higher legal aid bill.
     
  • Mr Justice Baker described the denial of legal aid in Court of Protection and Family Court proceedings as “a false economy” during his judgment in A Local Authority v M & Ors (2014) EWCOP 33 (see paragraph 75). Legal Voice reported on the case, in which the parents of a 24 year old man with autism were unrepresented and a fair hearing was “only achieved at the cost of a very significant lengthening of the proceedings”.
     
  • The Law Society’s annual survey of law firms revealed that 46% of law firms in Wales consider changes in legal aid to be a significant or very significant problem for their firm, whereas just 19% of firms in London had the same concerns about legal aid. Overall, 24% of firms reported a concern about changes in legal aid, making this the second most commonly cited concern, behind complying with regulations on legal services provision.
     
  • Although not strictly speaking a legal aid case, the Lord Chancellor’s losing streak in the Administrative Court continued this month, with the court finding that a review conducted into the exclusion of mesothelioma claims from civil litigation funding reforms was insufficient and therefore unlawful. YLAL committee member Oliver Carter wrote about the judgment for Legal Voice here.
     
  • And finally, huge congratulations to YLAL committee members Nadia Salam and Camilla Graham Wood, who were recently recognised for their outstanding work – Nadia won Family Law Young Solicitor of the Year at the Jordan’s Publishing Family Law Awards and Camilla won Junior Lawyer of the Year at the Law Society Excellence Awards!