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MA responds to legal aid inquiry

MA response

30 October 2020
MA responds to legal aid inquiry

The Justice Select Committee has opened an inquiry on legal aid, looking at the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the increased use of technology, Covid-19 and future challenges. The MA has responded, highlighting the data we have collected over the last five years from surveys with our members, which shows the increase in the proportion of unrepresented parties seen in both criminal and family court.

Broadly, the MA noted that we were concerned that a lack of legal representation can result in:

  • Litigants being underprepared for a hearing (including the need for interpreters or intermediaries not being identified)
  • Applications and other paperwork not being properly completed
  • Relevant evidence not being available
  • A greater degree of intervention needed by the bench and the legal adviser to explain and clarify proceedings and requirements
  • A lack of understanding among unrepresented parties of the need for position statements and other necessary documents to be prepared before a hearing
  • A lack of understanding among unrepresented parties of the confidential nature of some information
  • A lack of understanding as to the need for parties to name witnesses for their defence or their responsibility to produce relevant evidence, eg CCTV
  • A lack of understanding among unrepresented defendants about potential defences that might be available in law
  • Challenges being faced by unrepresented defendants in relation to not being able to put forward their best defence

We pointed out that all of these factors can increase the length of hearings, impacting on the ability of the courts to efficiently deal with cases as well as increasing delays for all parties waiting for their case to be heard. 

We also commented on the impact of Covid-19 on access that parties have to legal representation, as well as identifying possible challenges posed by the increasing use of digital systems in the justice system to people getting appropriate legal advice.

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