The Law Centres Network has contributed to a joint memorandum to Parliament's Justice Committee, setting out concerns and proposals ahead of the forthcoming legal aid review.
In January 2017, the government announced its plans for reviewing the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012. The review had been intended to begin in May but the snap general election caused it to be postponed.
However, the government still intends to complete its review within five years of LASPO's implementation - that is, by the end of March 2018. The review will begin with a report by the Ministry of Justice to the Justice Committee.
To inform the Justice Committee's approach to this 'post-legislative scrutiny', the Law Centres Network has teamed up with other access to justice organisations, including the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), pro bono charity Law Works and sector umbrella body Advice Services Alliance (ASA).
The group's memorandum to Justice Committee chair, Bob Neill MP, provides a great deal of detail on the effects of LASPO over the last 4.5 years. It also suggests four principles to guide the committee's discussions: a focus on legal aid's clients and their needs; ensuring that the scope of legal aid is coherent; prioritising accessibility as key to the rule of law; and basing future policy on robust evidence.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the Law Centres Network, said:
"As things stand, civil legal aid is not sustainable and is crying out for reform. Political events have delayed this review, but we have been anticipating it. We now have an opportunity for a critical and comprehensive examination of legal aid, and look forward to contributing to it from our extensive experience."