Authors:Chris Minnoch
Last updated:2023-09-18
Research provides food for thought for the APPG on Legal Aid
Chris Minnoch provides an update on the latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, at which some recent research reports were presented and discussed.
Research for the MoJ highlighted that clients experience difficulties in accessing and understanding procedural information, and that this tends to discourage them from pursuing their cases.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid’s latest meeting took place in Westminster on 9 March. Chaired by shadow Home Office minister Keir Starmer QC and co-sponsored by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Young Legal Aid Lawyers, the meeting focused on three research reports published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in late 2015.
The meeting was well attended, with six parliamentarians present and around 30 others representing organisations such as the MoJ, the Bar Council and the Law Society as well as private firms and not for profit (NfP) advice organisations and representative bodies.
Ashley Ames and Isabella Pereira of Ipsos MORI presented summaries of two reports, Survey of not for profit legal advice providers in England and Wales (MoJ, 17 December 2015) and The varying paths to justice (MoJ, 17 December 2015), while Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, gave a summary of the report, The composition and remuneration of junior barristers under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme in criminal legal aid (MoJ, 17 December 2015).
Not for profit advisers
Ames, presenting the key findings of the NfP survey, stressed that a lack of pre-existing comprehensive data on NfP providers meant that the first step for the researchers was to develop a robust database of such providers. Surprisingly for some, the research concluded that total organisational income levels were broadly stable between 2012/13 and 2014/15, but Ames noted that there was a great deal of variation within the data. He concluded that the research demonstrates pitfalls in making broad-brush generalisations about the sector and underlines the importance of future policy and communications taking account of the significant nuances that exist.
Users and non-users of the justice system
Pereira introduced the ‘varying paths’ report by noting that the researchers were tasked with developing a deeper understanding of how and why people try to resolve their legal problems, and the influences that shape people’s decision-making when faced with problems. The research highlighted that clients experience difficulties in accessing and understanding procedural information, and that this tends to discourage them from pursuing their cases. The research concluded that clients would benefit from increased awareness and improved access to relevant information, and that providers need to consider carefully the channels and formats available to deliver this information.
Junior barristers
Fenhalls explained that the junior barristers report had its origins in the industrial unrest in the criminal bar. In 2014, the bar and the MoJ had agreed that research was needed to obtain robust data about what was happening to advocate income. In summary, the research found that barristers’ incomes had fallen significantly, in real terms, over the past three years. This had led to a debate about whether the current system is sustainable.
He felt that it was in the public interest for the criminal justice system to attract goodquality candidates who are incentivised to stay in the profession by career progression. Student debt was making it very difficult for people to enter the profession and he would like government to consider schemes for helping good-quality graduates to deal with this problem. At the same time, the survey found that the earnings of criminal barristers increased for the first five or six years of their careers and then ‘flat-lined’, meaning experience isn’t being properly rewarded.
Useful discussion
The presenters fielded a number of questions. Labour peer Lord Bach queried how the findings of the NfP survey could be reconciled with the trend of NfP closures, shrinking public funding and reductions in legal aid cases since 2013. Ames noted that the survey captures information about existing NfP providers but reiterated the difficulties of making comparisons with earlier years due to an absence of equivalent data. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile’s comments about the importance of understanding the costs and benefits of quality legal advice led to a conversation about the evidence on this issue and the importance of recognising the non-financial benefits of quality advice.
What’s next?
A date is yet to be fixed for the group’s next meeting, which we hope Shailesh Vara, minister for the courts and legal aid, will be able to attend. Updates, when available, are posted on the group’s website (, where notes of this meeting and a summary of the Ipsos MORI presentations can also be found.