The Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) published a Manifesto for legal aid
in October, setting out its ideas to repair the damage caused to the justice system by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
Ideas explored in the document, which updates the manifesto published by LAPG two years ago, include:
•reinstating early legal advice;
•restoration of legal aid in some family, housing, welfare benefits, employment, inquests, prison and immigration law cases;
•a practitioner-led review of inefficiencies and waste in the criminal justice system;
•replacing the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to ensure independence of decision-making;
•restoration of funding in judicial review cases; and
•a programme of public legal education.
The manifesto argues that the ‘effect of LASPO has been that vast numbers of people have either been unable to resolve their legal problems, with consequential impact on the welfare state (benefits, NHS, social services, etc), or they have been forced to make their own way through the justice system’ (page 9).
The director of LAPG, Carol Storer, said that the ‘reality of the LASPO cuts has been worse than any of us could have imagined’. LAPG is calling on the government to listen to the lawyers on the front line of the justice system and to ‘take urgent action to repair the damage to access to justice’.
Like the Bach Commission report, which was published in September (see October 2017 Legal Action 3
), LAPG is calling for the replacement of the LAA. The manifesto strongly criticises the LAA for the deterioration in the quality of its decision-making in individual cases and calls for legal aid to be administered by an organisation independent from government. It is also calling for research on the ‘viability of the system at current rates of remuneration’ (page 25), to restore fees to the same levels as 2011 and to raise them in line with inflation.
LAPG represents legal aid lawyers in private firms and not-for-profit agencies such as law centres, as well as barristers and costs lawyers working in the sector. The manifesto was launched to coincide with the organisation’s conference, which took place in London in October.