A year after embarking on a major review of civil legal aid to make the increasingly fragile sector sustainable, the Ministry of Justice has issued a call for evidence.
The ministry said responses to the call for evidence will further inform the review, which is looking at 11 contracted categories of law, and feed into policy development work.
The categories are family, community care, housing and debt, immigration and asylum, mental health, discrimination, education, public law, claims against public authorities, clinical negligence, and welfare benefits.
Questions include if the current fee structures support the effective resolution of problems at the earliest opportunity, barriers to accessing legal aid, how people with multiple legal issues can be supported, areas where technology could be particularly helpful or would be particularly challenging, and measures that can be taken to encourage early resolution.
Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘To form part of our response, the Law Society is facilitating the Ministry of Justice’s roundtables throughout the UK, so our members can feed directly into the government officials undertaking the review.
‘A well-functioning civil justice system is vital to the economic health and social wellbeing of our country. Legal aid is an essential part of this. We have a justice system that has long been the envy of the world, but without investment, it will continue to fall apart. Providers of civil legal aid continue to close their doors as it is no longer economically viable.’
Data in the call for evidence, covering the past five years, show that provider numbers have steadily fallen in all but two of the 11 areas of law that the review is covering.
Housing and debt providers have fallen by nearly a third. Welfare benefit legal providers have fallen by nearly half.
Emmerson said: ‘The people who are affected most by this are families facing eviction, victims of abuse seeking the protection they need or a vulnerable person denied access to the care they’re entitled to. We urge the government to use this call for evidence to make meaningful change by investing in civil legal aid by ensuring there is a future for this vital public service.’
The call for evidence closes on 21 February.
The review has been divided into four workstreams – economic analysis, international comparator, data publication and user journey social research – which aim to conclude by March.