Mixed reaction from lawyers as Ministry of Justice LASPO review admits failures and promises more money for legal aid

On 7 February 2019 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) released its long-awaited review of the controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which promises an extra £6.5 million to counteract the cuts and admits some of LASPO’s failures.

LASPO came into force in 2013 with the aim of cutting the legal aid budget by £350 million and it has been widely and severely opposed by the legal profession ever since.

Lawyers have welcomed the MoJ’s commitment to restoring legal aid for migrant children separated from their families and expanding the cover to include those involved in special guardianship cases in family courts, which was set out in the review. The ministry has also promised to repair the exceptional case funding system (which helps in cases where human rights could be breached) and to make changes to the legal aid means test.

However, the review concedes that LASPO was “not entirely successful at discouraging unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense” and said that it is “impossible to say with certainty that the act targeted legal aid at those who most need it”.

The review has been met with mixed responses from the legal profession, with president of the Law Society Christina Blacklaws commenting: “welcome as this further work is, the government must give urgent attention to amending the means test thresholds because the current levels are preventing families in poverty from accessing justice.”

Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, said he was disappointed. “This is a wasted opportunity,” he said. “The report offers little of substance to ease the impact of LASPO on vulnerable individuals seeking justice.”

Others have described the new cash as “a drop in the ocean” and “too little, too late”, with much more money needing to be invested in legal aid to fix the broken system.

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