Labour plans for legal aid
On 30 January the Labour party announced three steps it would take on criminal legal aid if elected to govern this May. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said Labour would:
- “abandon immediately the planned implementation of the current government’s two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid”,
- review the second 8.75% fee cut due this summer; and
- “undertake an immediate review of how criminal legal aid is procured, working closely with the legal profession”.
Read the full report in the Guardian here.
YLAL welcomes this indication by Labour that they will not necessarily follow the coalition policies on criminal legal aid. Our members have explained how the current cuts to criminal legal aid and the tendering plans by the current Government threaten the service on offer for clients and the viability of the profession. (Read our response to the Government’s latest crime legal aid consultation here.)
Therefore any commitment to halt the current plans is to be welcomed. However, we would ask Labour to confirm now what it will do in relation to civil legal aid.
Even if it cannot commit to a wholesale rollback of the cuts made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), there are simple commitments that can be made now to ameliorate the impact of the fallout under LASPO and its successor plans.
Since April 2013 the Labour justice team has previously spoken out against Government proposals, for example, regarding the residence test for legal aid; evidence restrictions for victims of domestic violence in family law; litigants in person in the family courts and the exceptional funding scheme.
It was also very encouraging to see Ed Miliband propose an Early Day Motion to annul the regulations that now mean legal aid lawyers receive no payment in judicial review cases unless permission is granted. And at the recent Labour party conference Sadiq Khan said that holding Government to account is important.
Unfortunately Miliband’s EDM did not pass and these regulations are now in force. In reality this now means it is even harder to bring cases where you have received arguably unlawful decisions, as more lawyers reconsider whether it is possible to undertake legal aid work and stay in business with the amount of risk that exists across the board. This is despite the fact that Government lawyers continue to get paid for all their work done to ensure the state has the best service on offer, both when defending and bringing court actions, and are paid higher salaries than those for legal aid lawyers.
It is less than 100 days to the election and the Labour party has still made no concrete commitments on civil legal aid similar to those announced for crime. Given their previous pronouncements on Government plans and their votes against secondary legislation we consider it would be relatively straightforward for Labour to now confirm its manifesto for civil legal aid so that we will know what to expect if we vote for Labour in May.