Last updated:2023-09-18
Legal aid manifesto- good ideas need costing
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      Later today the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) will launch its Manifesto for Legal Aid,* details of which were revealed in this month's Legal Action. The document calls for changes to be made to the legal aid system to improve access to justice especially for vulnerable groups.   LAPG is requesting an immediate review of the impact of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPOA). It argues, in common with LAG and other interest groups, that the cuts to the scope of legal aid have had a knock-on impact on “society and the public purse, particularly the courts.” The manifesto calls on the government to make amendments to the Act, restoring legal aid for vulnerable groups such as children and disabled people.   Other reforms called for include abolishing the mandatory telephone gateway as the only method of accessing civil legal aid for certain categories of law, adjustments to the means test for legal aid and reforms to the exceptional funding system. The manifesto also recommends the implementation of the Low Commission’s findings on social welfare law.   In a move which will be popular with its members, LAPG suggests the creation of an independent body to review pay for legal aid work. LAPG argues that pay rates should be restored to 2011 levels pending the results of this review.   Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon) and Jenny Beck, Co-chairs of LAPG, said in a statement on the launch of the manifesto,   “The changes to legal aid have resulted in unforeseen inequality and injustice. Vulnerable groups have been particularly hard hit, with many now unable to obtain even the most basic legal advice about their rights, let alone representation. Without legal aid, there is no justice for those unable to pay.”   LAG supports the manifesto as we believe it contains sensible pragmatic suggestions which reflect the concerns expressed by many, including most recently the Justice Committee, that the cutbacks in civil legal aid are having a devastating impact on access to justice, especially for vulnerable groups. The document though has one serious flaw- none of its recommendations are costed. This is what the politicians are likely to focus on. That, and where they will get the money from to implement the recommendations.   Producing figures to back-up the policy suggestions is something which needs to be addressed if we are going to get any action on access to justice from the next government, whichever party or parties are in power after 7th May.   *The LAPG manifesto will be launched at an event tonight taking place at the House of Commons at 6pm, in Committee room eleven.