The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid held its first event of the year on 28 January 2019, arranged as a reception at Portcullis House for MPs and key organisations in the legal aid field.
Karen Buck MP, the APPG’s chair, welcomed parliamentarians together with the many individuals and organisations present from advocacy, representation and advice sectors. She underlined how the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) had been ‘quite staggering’. Apart from the serious impact on clients, another consequence was that MPs were now dealing with more cases needing legal advice, and the complexity was increasing. The training activities of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) had been very successful in addressing this growing issue, by developing MPs’ understanding of how best to provide help.
Lucy Frazer QC MP, parliamentary under secretary of state, promised that the long-awaited review of LASPO would be published ‘very shortly’. It had been a major exercise, centred on a ‘significant amount of support and engagement’ with the sector, ‘engaging with over 100 organisations’. She would not reveal the review’s findings, given it would be published so soon. However, one issue that had emerged was that MPs and their offices did not always know what people could get legal aid for, indicating a need for the Ministry of Justice to be more directly involved with MPs in future.
Shadow justice minister Gloria De Piero MP congratulated the APPG for keeping legal aid high on the agenda in parliament, especially given that there are ‘deep concerns about the future of legal aid’. She echoed that the training activities by LAPG had been invaluable to MPs. She added that a Labour government would return key areas of legal aid into scope, including housing law.
Alex Chalk MP, a vice-chair of the APPG, emphasised to all present that the ‘work you are doing is critically important’. He saw organisations and individuals in the legal aid field as ‘the torch-bearers of access to justice’. He urged everyone to continue with their vitally important work.
Cross-party support for legal aid was clearly evident. Buck rounded off the evening by saying that all looked forward to publication of the LASPO review, ‘hoping we will be able to celebrate’.