Rise in number of civil legal aid cases
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Marc Bloomfield
Legal aid statistics quarterly, England and Wales April to June 2019, published last week (26 September 2019) by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), shows an increase in the numbers of civil legal aid cases but a fall in criminal legal aid cases.
Overall expenditure has increased slightly over the past year, but this should be set against the very large falls in the numbers of civil legal aid cases after the scope changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 from April 2013. Expenditure on legal help cases, for example, has fallen to less than a third of pre-LASPO levels.
There were large increases in legal help for family cases and for mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs). Matter starts for family legal help cases were up by 10 per cent on the same quarter last year and MIAMs increased by 14 per cent over the same period. Smaller increases in legal help cases for non-family matters were reported; for example, housing cases increased by five per cent on the comparable quarter last year. There was a small rise of four per cent in civil representation work.
Applications for civil representation work supported by evidence of domestic violence or child abuse increased by 18 per cent against the same quarter last year. Due to the efforts of campaigners, the government has introduced several changes to the rules on qualifying for legal aid in domestic abuse cases, the latest of which was implemented in January last year (see February 2018 Legal Action 13).
Overall, in the civil representation category, there were 30,063 cases in the April–June 2019 quarter (Legal aid statistics tables – April to June 2019, table 6.1), comprising 25,658 family applications, 482 immigration applications, 296 mental health applications and 3,627 other applications (these include housing and community care).
‘It appears that the changes in the qualifying conditions for legal aid in domestic abuse cases has had a positive impact, but it remains a concern how many cases were missed before the changes and whether victims are still not getting the legal support they need,’ said Carol Storer, LAG’s interim director.
The MoJ also reports a 21 per cent increase in applications for exceptional case funding (ECF) over the same period last year. It observes that this is being driven by greater numbers of applications in immigration cases. Sixty-eight per cent of ECF applications were granted.
There has been a downward trend in advice in the police station over the past three years. This continued in April–June with a one per cent fall on the comparable quarter last year. There was also a seven per cent decline in completed magistrates’ court work.
In Crown Court work, meanwhile, there was a seven per cent fall in litigators’ graduated fee scheme work1This is the preparation work undertaken by solicitors. compared with the same period last year. Under the advocates’ graduated fee scheme,2The legal aid payment made to barristers and solicitor advocates for representation in criminal trials. there was a two per cent decrease in over the same period. Overall, there was a three per cent decline on the same period last year in the criminal legal aid workload.
 
1     This is the preparation work undertaken by solicitors. »
2     The legal aid payment made to barristers and solicitor advocates for representation in criminal trials. »

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