The Government has laid new regulations under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012. The Regulations introduce the new procedure that decision-makers will need to follow when granting legal aid to clients. We are very concerned in particular about two key issues.
From April 2013 people who need legal advice for debt, special educational needs and discrimination will have to call a telephone line first to check if they can obtain legal aid. If the telephone operator agrees that their case falls within the scope of LASPO and they are financially eligible, they will be put through to a specialist adviser who will then advise them and carry out casework via the telephone. The specialist adviser will also assess the client's suitability for telephone-only advice and casework.
Certain groups of people will be exempt from going through the telephone line: children, those in detention, and those who have been through the system already and have been assessed as not suitable for telephone-only advice.
There is concern that the regulations do not give a right to review from the decision of the telephone operator as to whether their case falls within the scope of legal aid; that "vulnerable people" and urgent cases are not exempted from having to go through the telephone line first; and that there is no provision in the regulations to allow third parties to call the telephone gateway on behalf of a client.
Domestic violence - evidence
Charities and agencies working with victims of domestic violence have expressed concern that the government does not intend to pay for the cost of a client getting evidence together to show they meet the domestic violence criteria. They are also worried about clients being able to access legally aided advice when it may not be clear to them what evidence is required to support their claim.
What you can do
Together with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, we have produced a briefing for members to send to their MPs and any peers they are in contact with to ask them to raise your concerns with the Government. We are not aware of any action that has triggered a debate in parliament as yet. However, if enough MPs or peers raise concerns about these issues then a debate may be held in the near future.
You can download the briefing below and you can find out the details of your MP here.