Civil legal aid was introduced by the Legal Aid Act 1949 and extended thereafter to cover legal advice (later renamed as ‘legal help’). Traditionally, the major areas covered by legal aid were family law, immigration and asylum, mental health and social welfare law – including issues such as debt, housing, and employment.
Major challenges have been faced by civil legal aid in recent years. On 1st April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2010 (LASPO) came into force, substantially reducing the scope of civil legal aid. Broadly, LASPO removed legal aid in most cases related to private family law, immigration, welfare benefits, employment and clinical negligence. The creation of the new Legal Aid Agency in place of the Legal Services Commission also gives the Government more direct control over the legal aid budget.
Since LASPO came into force there has been a significant increase in the number of people representing themselves in court. This is likely to cause major delays and raises questions of equality of arms where only one party is represented. The overall impact of the reforms has been to severely restrict access to justice across the civil justice system.
JUSTICE has voiced significant opposition to the cuts to legal aid and assistance and remains engaged in the important debate on the future of civil legal aid. Our parliamentary briefings on LASPO can be found here.