Vicky Ling, a management consultant specialising in all aspects of legal aid, and Simon Pugh, co-editors of the LAG Legal Aid Handbook 2013/14, write:1Visit: www.legalaidhandbook.com.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) recently published the annual legal aid statistics for 2013/14.2Legal aid statistics in England and Wales 2013-2014, June 2014, available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325921/legal-aid-statistics-2013-14.pdf. These are the first figures to show the effect of a full year of the legal aid scope cuts implemented by the LASPO Act in April 2013, and the effects are stark.
Civil and family
Civil expenditure is down £141 million to £801 million – the lowest since 2007/08 – and this will include many cases started before the scope cuts took effect (Figure 4, page 10). 2014/2015 expenditure is likely to show a further steep drop, following plummeting case start numbers in 2013/14.
A reduction of over 50 per cent in the overall amount of Legal Help matters started, from 782,000 in 2012/13 to 381,000 in 2013/14 (Figure 1, page 2).
The number of certificates granted for civil representation has fallen by 30 per cent between 2010/11 and 2013/14 (page 3).
The report states that:
Legal Help is usually the first point of civil legal advice and covers help via telephone, face to face and not for profit centres. Many of these will then extend into civil representation with full investigations undertaken or in court representation given although it is possible [to] enter straight into civil representation (page 19).
The sharp decrease in volumes substantiates reports from solicitors in private practice and not for profit (NFP) agencies that they have to turn many people away because their cases are not within scope of legal aid and there is no alternative funding available. Significantly fewer people are receiving the legal advice and representation that they need.
A fall of almost 80 per cent in the number of social welfare cases from 291,464 in 2012/13 to 62,585 in 2013/14 (Figure 16, page 22).
This covers both Legal Help and certificated work in community care, debt, employment and housing. In housing alone a category in which much work remains in scope – there was a fall of almost 45 per cent from 98,909 cases in 2012/13 to 55,943 cases in 2013/14. This reflects what many providers have reported; that it is ever harder to make in scope work viable because of fee cuts, tougher rules and the removal of related areas. If providers cannot make the work viable, the work will not be done, even if it is in scope.
A fall of 60 per cent in the number of family cases from 2012/13 to 2013/14 (page 20 and Tables 5.1, page 49 and 6.1, page 52).
The largest falls have been in private law Children Act proceedings where over 32,566 fewer certificates were granted between 2012/13 and 2013/14 (Table 6.2, page 53). This reflects the changes implemented under the LASPO Act as legal aid is now only available for private family law cases if there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse and for child abduction cases.
A fall of 40 per cent in the number of family mediations (30,662 cases in 2012/13 down to 13,354 cases in 2013/14 (Figure 15, page 21)).
This is a particular issue of concern as legal aid for mediation remains in scope under the LASPO Act and the statistics also show that mediation outcomes are good. In 2013/14 the proportion of those reaching agreements rose to 79 per cent compared with around 66 per cent pre-LASPO Act.
Exceptional funding
There were 1,520 applications for exceptional funding in 2013/14, but just 69 were granted.
Cases which are outside the scope of the LASPO Act but where a lack of funding would, or would risk, a breach of human rights can be granted ‘exceptional funding’ under LASPO Act s10. Of the cases granted funding, 53 were for inquests, which would have been eligible for exceptional funding under the Access to Justice Act 1999 scheme in any event. Therefore, only 16 cases that fell outside the muchreduced scope of the new Act were funded. Of these, nine were in family; four were in immigration; one was in housing; one was for an inquiry/tribunal; and there was one ‘other’ (Figure 22, page 27).
Number of providers
At the end of 2013/14, the number of civil legal aid providers had nearly halved since 2007/08, and the number of crime providers had fallen by 16 per cent over the same period (page 28).
In 2012/13, there were 866 NFP legal aid providers. In 2013/14, there were just 95 – a fall of almost 90 per cent (Table 9, page 62).
The total crime spend has fallen almost £200 million, in two years, to £900 million – the lowest for at least eight years (Figure 4, page 10). Note that this is before any of the recent cuts to crime scope and rates have taken effect, so again we can expect further reductions in 2014/15.
Police station and magistrates’ court cases
There has been a 21 per cent decrease in crime lower workload since 2008/09 and a two per cent fall in the last year (page 15). However, the numbers of people receiving Legal Help with a solicitor in attendance was eight per cent lower in 2013/14 than the peak in 2008/09 (page 16).
Expenditure in crime higher (Crown Court and above) has also decreased over the last three years (Figure 6, page 12).
The MoJ says that a similar trend can be seen in recorded crime figures, which have also been reducing in the same period.3See: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/period-ending-december-2013/stb-crime-stats-dec-2013.html#tab-Overall-level-of-crime. However, there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that reduced charging practices and diversion from the court process also play a part.4 Transforming legal aid: next steps. A report for The Law Society of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice, Otterburn Legal Consulting, February 2014, available at: https://consult. justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps/results/otterburn-legal-consulting-a-report-for-the-law-society-and-moj.pdf.
Prison law
There was a 14 per cent fall in prison law volumes in 2013/14 compared with the previous year (page 17).
Total expenditure on Very High Cost Cases (VHCCs) in 2013/14 was £57 million, a reduction of 16 per cent compared with the previous year (page 14).
VHCCs are those cases that would be likely to last more than 60 days at trial. They represent less than one per cent of the volume but ten per cent of the overall cost of publicly funded cases in the Crown Court.
1     Visit: www.legalaidhandbook.com»
2     Legal aid statistics in England and Wales 2013-2014, June 2014, available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325921/legal-aid-statistics-2013-14.pdf»
4      Transforming legal aid: next steps. A report for The Law Society of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice, Otterburn Legal Consulting, February 2014, available at: https://consult. justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps/results/otterburn-legal-consulting-a-report-for-the-law-society-and-moj.pdf»

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.
Description: Simon Pugh
Simon Pugh is a solicitor, currently not in practice, who formerly worked in legally aided private practice and for Shelter, the housing charity.