Read here to find out the latest developments in the Legal Aid debate...
Young Legal Aid Lawyers are shocked and disappointed that in spite of the Constitutional Affairs Committeeâ€™s warnings about the â€˜breathtaking riskâ€™ of implementing Lord Carterâ€™s reforms, the Governmentâ€™s response, published on Friday, flippantly dismisses these serious warnings.
While the Committee stressed the need for further research into the possible effect of the proposals on the supply of legal help to the most vulnerable, the impact these reforms may have on BME suppliers and the dangers of Best Value Tendering, the Government response has dismissed these worries out of hand, displaying a now familiar caviler attitude to the future of Legal Aid.
The lack of explanation for dismissing the Committeeâ€™s recommendations is appalling. The complacency of the Government in their attitude to specialist providers is truly breathtaking for a Government that purports to aim to help the vulnerable and socially excluded.
We welcome the response of the Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Alan Beith MP who will be calling for a debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the issue as a matter of urgency. We would also urge all YLAL members to write to their Member of Parliament to ask them to press for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity.
Throughout this whole process YLAL has been calling on the Government to assess the impact of these reforms on those entering the profession. Yet again our submissions and those of many other practitioners go unheeded. On Friday the Government and Legal Services Commission produced at least four further consultations. With firms in disbelief at the lack of attention paid to previous consultations, is it any wonder that lawyers would rather be helping clients than attempting to respond to yet another consultation destined to be ignored?
Notes to Editors
- The Governmentâ€™s response can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/legal-aid-reform.pdf
- The Report of the Constitutional Affairs Committee can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmconst/223/22302.htm
Young Legal Aid Lawyers was founded in 2005 to represent the views of students, barristers, solicitors and other lawyers entering or newly entered to the profession committed to legal aid: www.younglegalaidlawyers.org
The Ministry of Justice has today responded to the Constitutional Affairs Committee highly critical report on the implementation of the changes to legal aid. Unfortunately, the government’s response, along with its press release, appears to focus on the narrow fact that the Committee accepted a move in principle to fixed fees. However, the Committee’s chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, said:
“The Government still failed to recognise the fundamental flaws in its proposals for legal aid reform.
There is widespread concern at these proposals, not only in the legal profession, but also in the Not for Profit sector, which is reflected in the House of Commons.
I will be seeking to ensure that Parliament will debate these issues and the Government’s response as soon as possible.”
Let us know what you think by emailing us through the ‘contact us’ form on the web site!
The Constitutional Affairs Committee Report was published today along with a press notice emphasising its conclusion that the changes will place access to justice in serious risk:
SERIOUS RISK FOR ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN LEGAL AID PLANS, SAYS COMMITTEE
New Ministry of Justice announced
How much does the Legal Services Commission administration cost as a proportion of Legal Aid Spending?
Mr. Mullin: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what percentage of Legal Services Commission costs are accounted for by administration. 
Vera Baird: The latest figures available (2005-06) show that the Legal Services Commission's administration costs equate to 4.8 per cent. of expenditure on legal aid.
Harry Cohen: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment the Government have made of the effect on those (a) affected by domestic violence and (b) on low incomes of the proposed changes to legal aid arrangements; and if she will make a statement. 
Ms Harman: Domestic violence is a cross-Government priority and formalised through the formation of the Inter-Ministerial Group for Domestic Violence. The Group comprises of Ministers from nine Government Departments and the three devolved administrations. In light of the assessments and priority need, the group prepares an Annual Delivery Plan and reports against progress each year. The report for 2006-07 will be published shortly together with the Delivery Plan for 2007-08.
Domestic Violence proceedings are a priority area for legal aid funding. The Legal Services Commission's (LSC's) Funding Code Criteria for domestic violence cases are wider than for most other family and non-family areas; they are not limited to any specific definition of domestic violence or abuse. When appearing in a family court, persons of limited means will be funded in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. As a separate measure to the wider programme of legal aid reform as set out in "Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead" the financial eligibility limits for legal aid for domestic violence victims will be raised and both income and capital limits will be able to waived, by the LSC, on a discretionary basis from 9 April 2007. In criminal proceedings, the Crown Prosecution Service represents the victim of domestic violence.
Press release on the unified contract
Including information that 85% of Legal Aid firms have signed the Unified Contract
Consultation on the extension of the Duty Solicitor Call Centre
Following the frenzy of activity and debate last week as to whether or not firms should sign the new contract for civil work, it now seems that many firms have signed the contract....But under protest.
The LAPG and Fisher Meredith Solicitors have both released press releases today warning of the consequences if the deadline to sign the proposed new Unified Contract is not extended.
The LAPG has today written to the Legal Services Commission urging the LSC to think again about imposing the new legal aid contract on the legal professsion in order to prevent significant harm to the interests of clients.
All civil providers are expected to sign the new unified contract by 31st March 2006. As that date draws close, there has been a frenzy of activity about whether or not providers should sign.
Legal aid is under threat.
The latest government proposals will deny justice to the most vulnerable in society. In a time of increased police powers, a raft of new offences and a greater complexity of law, the government want to dumb down justice. While we see more legislation criminalising peaceful protest, repressive legislation for asylum seekers, and with Courts busier than ever before in family and care proceedings, more and more people will face these issues without legal representation. Without access to justice, there can be no justice.
Please join us on Monday 19th March, 2.30pm-5.30pm at Old Palace Yard, opposite Houses of Parliament, to show a united front against this infringement of basic civil liberties. Bring banners, placards and as many of your friends and colleagues as you can muster.