The importance of the advice sector in the context of legal aid cuts

Dr Sarah Moore, Lecturer in Sociology (Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath).

The PolicyBristol blog has the pleasure of welcoming this guest post by Dr Sarah Moore, who was one of the participants in the recent book launch of Advising in Austerity. Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (Policy Press, 2017). Dr Moore is also the co-author of Legal aid in crisis. Assessing the impact of reform (Policy Press, 2017) and offers here her insightful views on the need to boost the activities and funding of the legal advice sector.

Anyone familiar with legal aid reform will know that the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has dramatically altered the meaning and nature of legal aid. It has meant, amongst other things, a significant reduction in funding, largely achieved by taking a large number of areas of civil law out of scope, including private family law cases, and almost all cases involving social welfare, housing, medical negligence, immigration, debt, and employment.

The most strenuous critics of LASPO have pointed out that the recent funding cuts restrict people’s access to justice. In answering to these problems, LASPO incorporated a set of exceptions. Those who could provide evidence that they had been victims of domestic violence, for example, were to be given access to legal aid to pursue family law cases. And an Exceptional Case Funding caveat was incorporated in the Act for those who could successfully make a case that their human rights would be breached without publicly-funded legal assistance. Both have been woefully inadequate.

Research led by Rights of Women indicates that, even after the government relaxed the rules on domestic violence evidence and legal aid eligibility, a significant proportion of female victims (38% in their 2014 survey) did not have the mandatory evidence to receive publically-funded support. And the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme has been a disaster by anyone’s standards. In the first year post-LASPO, the Legal Aid Agency received only 1,520 applications for ECF. According to the Public Accounts Committee, only 69 were granted funding. That is far, far fewer than the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency had predicted in the post-LASPO period. Applications have picked up in the last year, as has the acceptance rate, but the fact remains that this safety net is sorely under-used. Continue reading

Latest employment tribunal statistics confirm loss of access to justice for workers

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

Professor Nicole Busby, Strathclyde University

If we needed further proof that the Coalition’s policy of charging claimants to bring cases to the Employment Tribunal (ET) posed a serious threat to access to justice in employment disputes, the latest ET statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) provide it.

The most recent figures, which cover April to June 2014, show that the downward trend in the number of claims brought, which has been recorded for every quarter since fees were introduced in July 2013, has continued. Single claims have fallen by 70% compared with the same period in 2013, with multiple claims down from 1500 to just 500. Furthermore, the introduction in April 2014 of Acas’s early conciliation scheme has had an impact on the number of claims lodged.

Under the scheme, there is a mandatory requirement that Acas must be notified of any dispute before an ET claim can be made. This is to facilitate efforts to settle the dispute. One effect of this is that cases which do end up with the ET now face a time lag of about a month while Acas has an opportunity to intervene. Another effect is that the statistics for April to June 2014 are not directly comparable with the same period in 2013. Nevertheless, there is still a significant reduction.

Continue reading