New figures published by the Ministry of Justice derived from data held by the Legal Aid Agency show a continued decline in the both the number of legal aid representation orders being granted and the amount spend on legal aid itself especially in areas which were affected by the scope changes in the LASPO Act.
Spending on Criminal Legal aid overall has fallen back to its 2015 levels (although there was a small 1% increase in value of work before the Magistrates Court).
The numbers of certificates granted for legal aid in areas of Family Law and in instances of Domestic Violence (Where Legal Aid is still available) increased by 9% and Legal Help matters for Public Family Law increased by 1% as well.
The number of Civil legal aid certificates have continued to fall compared to the previous years quarters across many areas of Law including
- Family Mediation (Down 7%)
- Mental Health (Down 5%)
- Immigration (Down 24%)
- Housing (Down 12%)
- Other Non Family (Down 6%)*
- Judicial Review (Down 27%)*
*Due to the low level of cases it is harder to draw conclusions of overall trends from these figures.
One positive area highlighted by the figures has been the increased take-up and granting of Exceptional Case Funding with a 43% rise in application (441 in total) in this quarter compared to the year before. It is believed that this stems from the simplification of the application process following a successful judicial review case over the complexity of the forms. Of the 441 applications 240 were granted.
It should be remembered that while this is a welcome improvement it is far short of the 5 – 7000 a year figure expected by the Ministry of Justice when LASPO was enacted.
The above statistics are a snapshot of a system in decline. Questions must be asked as to the reasons why less cases are being funded by legal aid. Is it because the police are no longer accusing people of crimes? Are there less people this year being deported or having family difficulties? Are people no longer asking for legal aid? Are there less solicitors offering advice on a legal aid basis? Statistics show us that something is happening but they do not tell us why. All we know is that Legal Aid helps those who need it get legal advice and representation, and those who go without risk being denied their right of access to justice.