Legal aid reforms and the risk they pose to the justice system
The reforms to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) have been in place for 2 years now but how have they changed the system? The government made implemented changes to the LASPO act in a bid to reduce the amount of fraudulent Road Traffic Accident claims by making it more risky and difficult for the victim to bring a claim. It also tackled the issue of referral fees generated by Claims Management Companies which some felt encouraged fraudulent claims.
Unfortunately, this also had a profound impact on sufferers of industrial disease as disease claims were also grouped into the changes introduced in April 2013. Prior to the LASPO reform, the defendant would pay success fees on successful cases to the claimant solicitor, however since the LASPO reform has been implemented, sufferers of industrial disease are expected to pay up to 25% from their damages for the solicitor success fee.
The legal industry is now seeing effects of these reforms with many Claims Management Companies and law firms closing down due to the drastic change in legislation. Other law firms have sculpted their firm to become malleable to adjust to the changes required to continue to run successful businesses. These changes include a shift towards Alternative Business Structures which allows non solicitor owner/managers to drive performance and help shape the new age law firms.
Legal aid has been a foundation of the justice system in the UK for years and provides legal aid to thousands of people who previously couldn’t afford it. Common cases that legal aid was applied to were eviction, debt and family breakdown.
Now due to this reform many litigants are now appearing before the civil and family courts in person without any form of legal representation. This has an obvious negative affect on the case outcome as it could be argued that the case is never going to be properly represented without proper legal aid.
The reforms haven’t been received well by people inside the legal profession. Protests and strikes have taken place against the reforms and in some instances unhappiness with colleagues.
Sir Alan Moses, a judge of 19 years noted his concern.
“I’m quite certain that if you don’t allow those who can’t afford it, legal assistance, that more and more serious miscarriages of justice will occur. It seems to me inevitable that that will happen if you don’t have skilled independent advocates arguing cases.”
Supporters of the reforms note that the new rules allow for deserving cases to be represented. To evaluate who had a deserving case a new scheme was introduced following the reforms called the “Exceptional Case Funding” scheme. To evaluate the success of this scheme you can look at how many applicants have been accepted by the scheme. Currently there have only been 69 successful applicants out of the 1,500 that applied.
This is going to be an on-going issue for people seeking legal aid in the future with the potential of more budget cuts in the future and with future government parties attempting to succeed in certain agendas.
 “Legal aid reforms ‘risk serious miscarriages of justice’”, Raphael Rowe, BBC news, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32072457
 “Legal aid reforms: Solicitors lose appeal against cuts”, BBC news, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32051672
 “Justice Committee report finds legal aid reforms harm access to justice”, Matthias Mueller, FamilyLaw, http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/justice-committee-report-finds-legal-aid-reforms-harm-access-to-justice#.VRvc3_zF_ew
 “620,000 deprived of justice because of legal aid cuts”, Joana Ramiro , Morning Star, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-8114-620,000-deprived-of-justice-because-of-legal-aid-cuts