MPs will grill senior Ministry of Justice officials next month on the National Audit Office’s damning report on the government’s management of legal aid, the Gazette has learned.
The public spending watchdog criticised the lord chancellor’s department last Friday for not knowing whether everyone eligible for legal aid can access it, and for being slow and reactive on market sustainability issues.
The ministry’s permanent secretary, Antonia Romeo, Legal Aid Agency chief executive Jane Harbottle, HM Courts & Tribunals Service development director Jason Latham and Jerome Glass, general policy and strategy group director at the ministry, will appear before the House of Commons public accounts committee on 25 March.
The Gazette understands the meeting was scheduled as part of the committee’s usual process for taking forward NAO reports, as opposed to being urgently convened because of the report’s critical findings.
However, committee chair Meg Hillier’s statement on the NAO report suggests officials will face tough questions.
Hillier said: ‘Nine years after our committee scrutinised legal aid, the Ministry of Justice still does not fully understand the impact of its reforms. The government has a duty to fund legal advice for the most vulnerable people in society. The MoJ has met its aim to cut its legal aid spending, but evidence suggests that access to legal aid services is worsening. The MoJ needs to be more interested in the impact on people of their reforms.
‘The MoJ must proactively work with others across government and legal providers to collect more information on costs and demand. They have to build a sustainable legal aid market where everyone who is eligible for legal aid can access it.’
The committee has issued a call for evidence on the four issues that officials will be questioned on: LASPO’s effectiveness; the sustainability of the legal aid market; costs and benefits; and access to justice.
The call for evidence closes on 10 March.