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Legal Aid – Past, Present and Future

Solicitors in London

Legal Aid – Past, Present and Future

News article published on: 10th July 2019

This year marks 70 years since the post-war Labour Government passed the Legal Aid and Advice Act. I was fortunate to be invited to a celebration of this milestone for legal aid at the Houses of Parliament on 9 July 2019, hosted by the Leader of the Opposition. Speakers at the event included Richard Burgeon (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor), Lord Bach , Baroness Chakrabarti  (Shadow Attorney General) , and Jeremy Corbyn (Leader of the Opposition). The event was an important reminder of the great work that can be, and is, done with the assistance of legal aid, and of its central importance in ensuring access to justice for those who need it most. It also served to highlight the parlous state of legal aid provision in 2019, following on from the significant cuts to legal aid brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“LASPO”). LASPO significantly reduced the ability of lawyers to obtain legal aid in the areas of housing, family, immigration, welfare benefits, and other key areas, as well as reducing the rates at which lawyers were paid (notably solicitors had not seen an increase in hourly rates for legal aid in over 15 years prior to this cut). There are now large areas of the country that are advice deserts or where only one legal aid provider for a specific  area of law is serving an entire county. Any progress that is made with enacting progressive legislation is meaningless if people do not have the means by which to enforce their legal rights. The government published a review of LASPO in February 2019. Whilst this review acknowledged some of the key problems caused by LASPO no action has yet been taken to implement any changes, with only a commitment to carry out further research. The celebration of 70 years of legal aid serves as a timely reminder of the need to restore the availability of legal advice and support to people at times in their lives when they need it most.

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