Legal aid cuts and the backing of the Jackson reforms of civil litigation costs have been confirmed yesterday by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. What impact will it have on your firm?
The plans were unveiled in the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, with the Government ploughing ahead with previously laid-out cuts in a bid to significantly reduce its £2.1bn annual legal aid bill.
The reforms include the abolition of the recoverability of success fees and associated costs in ‘no win, no fee’ conditional fee arrangements, with claimants to pay their lawyers’ success fees instead.
The legal aid cuts will affect welfare benefits, clinical negligence, personal injury, debt, divorce, employment, immigration, and housing, including squatters resisting eviction.
Legal aid will also no longer be available for those seeking compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
However, as outlined by the Ministry of Justice last November, legal aid will remain available for cases involving threats to liberty, physical safety, child welfare or the immediate threat of homelessness.
In addition, the definition of domestic violence has been expanded beyond physical abuse to include mental and sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation.
Legal aid will remain available for judicial review applications, but will be restricted to individuals who will directly benefit from the case, making it impossible for challenges to be brought in the public interest by campaign groups.
In criminal cases, the bill appears to introduce an ‘interest of justice’ test to determine legal representation for those detained in a police station.
The bill provides for the abolition of the Legal Services Commission and the appointment of a civil servant to be Director of Legal Aid Casework, designated by the lord chancellor to administer the legal aid scheme.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “The justice system is in need of urgent reform, burdened as it is by slow, inefficient and expensive processes and procedures, as well as the sheer numbers of people bringing their problems before the courts.
“These reforms will ensure that we have a legal aid system which is targeted at those who need it most, in the most serious cases, as well as providing value for money to the taxpayer.”
However many are hostile to the plans. Law Society president Linda Lee said: ‘The Law Society and the legal profession will continue its campaign against government cuts to legal aid. Cuts that will cost the taxpayer more than they save; cuts that will leave families, the elderly, victims of clinical negligence and the unemployed without access to justice.’
‘The government should have listened to ‘thousands of dissenting voices’ and introduced reforms that would make the necessary savings without simply transferring costs to other parts of the public sector.
‘Instead, the government is risking increased criminality and reduced social cohesion, as the MoJ’s own impact assessment warned, while damaging the ability of ordinary people to get justice.’
How will this impact your firm. What changes will you have to make to ensure your service levels and profit targets are met?