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Justice Select Committee report on legal aid

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30 July 2021
Justice Select Committee report on legal aid

The Justice Select Committee’s Third Report of their Inquiry into the Future of Legal Aid has been published, with the MA welcoming its main findings which are in line with our evidence to the Committee. The report calls for urgent reforms to legal aid, warning that a rigid system of fixed fees and low pay is causing firms specialising in legal aid to struggle, meaning firms reliant on criminal legal aid work are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff. These firms cannot compete with the Crown Prosecution Service, which can offer much better pay and conditions, and the Committee warns that without reform, criminal defence services will be unable to provide the quality of defence which is needed in an adversarial justice system. Civil legal aid providers are also facing sustainability issues, resulting in ‘legal aid deserts’ in some areas, where people cannot access specialist advice for issues such as housing, and immigration.

Recommendations made by the Committee include:

  • For the civil legal aid system to be overhauled, with a more flexible system which allows anyone with a legal problem who cannot afford a lawyer to access legal advice. The report argues that this would not only improve access to justice, but ensure that litigants were better informed to understand court proceedings
  • For the government to take a more flexible approach to legal aid funding, so providers are given support to help the most vulnerable; the current means test may also be creating a barrier to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in society and impacting the fairness of the justice system
  • For the cap on what acquitted defendants can recover from central funds to be removed
  • For the legal aid system to be simplified, so it is easier for eligible people to access the services they need
  • For the government to consider changing eligibility thresholds, regularly increasing these in line with inflation.
     

The MA’s position statement on legal aid can be found here, and our evidence to the Committee's consultation can be found here.

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