Muted response to LASPO review
Marc Bloomfield
Reaction to the Post-implementation review of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), published on Thursday last week (Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 7 February 2019), has been low-key. While the minor changes to the scheme announced by the government were welcomed by practitioners, concerns were expressed that the government is delaying action to counter the worst impacts of LASPO.
In a press release, Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, typified the views of many legal aid lawyers in describing the review as a ‘wasted opportunity’ with the report offering ‘little of substance to ease the impact of LASPO on vulnerable individuals seeking justice’. LAG director Steve Hynes told the Guardian: ‘Legal aid and the justice system need an injection of cash. The £6-10m proposed won’t do it. You can’t replace £400m of cuts with a few well-directed schemes.’
Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC announced that £5m of cash had been set aside for ‘innovative forms of legal support’. She also offered some hope for the future, telling the Guardian that the ministry was ‘aiming to put forward a package to the Treasury for the next spending review armed with more evidence for our spending [on legal aid]. We will be making a bid in due course’.
The Law Society welcomed the government’s commitment to amending scope in some family cases by this summer as well as the more general review of the means test promised for summer 2020. Its president, Christina Blacklaws, said in a press release that legal aid rates for criminal and civil cases need to be reviewed to ‘address the medium-term viability of the system’; as a first step, she suggested that they should be ‘uprated in line with inflation ahead of further work to make the system sustainable’.
Bob Neill, the Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Justice Committee, said in statement that the MoJ’s plans for reviews and pilot schemes ‘must be swift and focused as the pressures across the whole justice system … are real and immediate’.
Legal Aid Practitioners Group CEO, Chris Minnoch, told Legal Action that while the organisation was willing to work with the government on the early advice pilot and reviews announced with the report, it was ‘disappointed that after almost six years of explaining the damaging consequences of LASPO (in combination with a raft of other issues negatively impacting our clients), the review doesn’t seek to properly address the impact of LASPO’. Minnoch also expressed concern that there was no commitment by the MoJ ‘to undertake research or properly assess whether current provision actually meets the demand for legal advice’.
Articles on the review document and the companion publication, Legal support: the way ahead – an action plan to deliver better support to people experiencing legal problems (CP 40, MoJ, February 2019) will be published in next month’s Legal Action.

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