Access to justice is a fundamental right for every individual, and a cornerstone of our justice system, which is envied right across the globe. My priority is to make sure people can access the support they need to resolve their legal problems in the most effective way and at the earliest opportunity.
Our review of the changes to the legal aid system made under the coalition government2Post-implementation review of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), CP 37, MoJ, February 2019.
highlighted the good that public funding does every day across England and Wales. That is why we have committed to maintaining the scope of legal aid into the future, but also to make a number of wider improvements to the system. This means giving people the tools they need to access the right support, at the right time, in the right way for them.
Legal aid will always remain a fundamental part of the justice system – last year alone we spent £1.6bn on legal aid, representing more than a fifth of the department’s entire budget. But through our Legal Support Action Plan3See Legal support: the way ahead, CP 40, MoJ, February 2019.
we want to enhance and review the types of support on offer, and harness the opportunities presented by new technologies. We know that groundbreaking work is already underway in the sector, and we are investing up to £5m of funding to encourage technological innovation and develop new methods of support that are easy to access and cost-effective.
Everyone should be able to get a fair determination of their rights, and we are paying particular attention to reaching those who may be geographically or otherwise isolated, or may not feel empowered to access support when they need it.
The Legal Aid Agency, too, has begun transforming the way it works, making use of technology to create a modern service that is simple for both those applying for legal aid and those providers delivering it. This includes testing the use of Open Banking
so applicants can share information digitally, rather than printing off bank statements, making better use of data held by the government, speeding up applications and making the service more accessible.
During our engagement, we consistently heard that early intervention is key in helping people deal with their problems before they escalate into bigger legal issues. We have begun work with the industry to test and evaluate new early advice pilots and support ‘hubs’, drawing together existing services so people are signposted to the right support for them early on – in many cases before they become entangled in the legal system thus preventing them from ever having to step into a courtroom.
We need to ensure that funding is invested where it has most impact, so thorough testing and evaluation is key to developing a legal support system that is sustainable into the future. The evidence and views contributed from across the legal sector during the review, including from LAG, have been invaluable in identifying where we will take action. We will now build on that extensive work to create innovative and evidence-based solutions to the challenges that face us.
I’d like to extend my personal thanks to all those who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to this vital work. This engagement has led our approach to support in the future.