YLAL response to Government announcement on TLA proposals
On 5 September the Government published its response to the Transforming Legal Aid Consultation. The response can be accessed here. Save for a few small concessions the Government will be pressing ahead with its proposals in full.
The headline announcement is that the Government has rejected price competitive tendering for criminal defence work. Instead, they now propose to run a tender for contracts based on quality and capacity. However, the cuts of 17.5% to criminal fees will still go ahead. This raises significant concerns about the viability of criminal defence work and the pressure that will be placed on junior lawyers who will have to take on more responsibility with less supervision. Both issues will impact on the quality of representation available to those accused of a crime.
In civil work the Government is pressing ahead with the discriminatory residence test, which states that a person will only be granted legal aid if they can prove that they are lawfully resident in the UK and have been lawfully resident for a continuous period of 12 months. There will now be limited exclusions including babies under 12 months-old (who must still be able to show lawful residence); asylum seekers; victims of trafficking and domestic violence (but for only certain legal cases); and people in detention (again only for certain legal cases).
We are profoundly disappointed that the Government has failed to listen to the vast majority of respondents, including YLAL who argued that the residence test is discriminatory, will undermine the rule of law and will be a disaster to administrate. It will result in many people who have lived in the UK for years being unable to access justice, defend claims or enforce their rights in the UK. Although there are a few exceptions to the test these do not go far enough to protect vulnerable groups.
For judicial review claims the Government has ignored the views of its senior judiciary, its own legal advisers and a range of respected politicians and lawyers in deciding to keep the proposal not to pay lawyers for their work on judicial review cases unless they pass the “permission stage”.
The Government will proceed with cuts to prison law work, removing legal aid for many vitally important issues such as whether prisoners are treated lawfully and humanely in the prison system or where they will live on release and how they will be supported to avoid reoffending. Again the Government has not listened to the concerns of experts in the field such as the Parole Board.
There will be significant reductions in the fees paid to barristers undertaking civil work. The cuts will also make it harder for up-and-coming barristers to do legal aid work, particularly if they are from a lower socio-economic background.
Our view is clear; it is essential that there is a supply of committed legal aid lawyers willing to carry out crucial work for the most vulnerable people. Access to justice should not just be for the rich, and neither should access to the profession that serves people with legal problems. Without a next generation of legal aid lawyers committed to carrying out this socially valuable work, the system cannot function. The Government has failed to take this on board.
Together with their response to the consultation, the Government announced a new consultation on their plans for tendering for criminal defence work. The new consultation ends on 18 October 2013 (UPDATE the consultation has been extended to 1 November 2013 due to mistakes in the original Government consultation paper). YLAL will be submitting a response and would welcome contributions from members. Please email us on email@example.com if you would like to help.
You can do more by joining us for campaign work, including taking part in the march to save legal aid in Manchester on Sunday 29th September https://www.facebook.com/events/1412436952304307
The fight against the proposals must and will go on. We should be proud of the British legal system and the historic commitment to equality before the law. We will not stand by as these proposals destroy what has been built up in years over less than six months. Please contact your MP to raise your concerns about the Government's actions. Many of these proposals will go through via secondary legislation without full scrutiny of Parliament. It is vital to ask your MP now to tell the Justice Secretary why this is wrong.