Westminster Legal Policy Forum

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Next steps for Legal Aid in England and Wales - funding, quality, access to justice, and alternative sources of advice

Morning, Tuesday, 16th March 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference focuses on the future for legal aid in England and Wales.

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the MoJ, Home Office, HMCTS; Government Legal Department and the NAO.

Areas for discussion:

  • funding and investment in legal aid provision - as the Government considers the make-up of criminal legal aid fee schemes with the aim of ensuring that fee schemes:
    • reflect and pay for the work done
    • support a sustainable legal aid market
    • provide value for money for the tax payer
    • foster just, efficient and effective case progression
  • reform of the wider criminal legal aid market - including how to ensure:
    • appropriate levels of legal aid provision, with the Law Commission’s reported proposals for wealthy criminal suspects to no longer be provided with legal aid when their assets are frozen
    • that provision is delivered by practitioners with the right skills and expertise
    • the development of a diverse workforce
  • disruption caused by the pandemic to the functioning of the legal aid sector - priorities for responding to the challenges, and for service recovery, in light of:
    • court closures and increased backlogs of cases in re-opened courts
    • concern over financial sustainability and legal aid firms facing insolvency
    • the impact of the pandemic on access to Exceptional Case Funding
  • ensuring access to justice:
    • alternative sources of legal advice:
      • looking at options and the way forward for community legal support and similar providers
      • with the spread of the pandemic having seen rising numbers of people seeking advice for social welfare cases
    • the Legal Support Action Plan - progress so far towards reaching its aims in areas such as
      • improving the range of complementary legal support
      • provision of early stage legal support and support for litigants in person
      • raising public awareness of how to access legal support
    • legal aid deserts:
      • the way forward for policy to improve access to justice for people on low incomes, and how funding can be directed to this end
      • with the Law Society campaign finding high proportions of local authorities in England and Wales without community care legal aid provision or housing legal aid providers
    • the Legal Aid Means Test Review:
      • policy priorities for improving the framework and for thresholds as well as for improving availability of early legal support and advice and the sustainability of the civil legal aid system
      • with a consultation expected next year in Spring 2021.
  • fairness across the profession:
    • priorities for ensuring support and improvements for the sector take into account the impact on diversity and staff wellbeing
    • following complaints that the lack of significant increase in junior advocate and solicitor fees has been disproportionately affecting ethnic minority and female professionals
  • technology
    • the impact of technological innovation - opportunities for reducing process management and administration and increasing the financial viability of firms taking on legal aid work
    • the wider future use of lawtech - with developments such as the recent shift to remote work and sanctioning of the use of electronic signatures
    • security - priority for safeguards in the use of technology such as digital signatures and for preventing fraud
    • accessibility:
      • ensuring the availability of technology when needed
      • with recent research finding difficulty in making applications for Exceptional Case Funding scheme during the pandemic partly due to issues with IT

The agenda:

  • The current state of play with legal aid in England and Wales
  • Improving future legal aid provision - meeting demand, providing value for money, and developing a financially sustainable and just legal aid market in the wake of the pandemic
  • The impact of COVID-19 on access to Exceptional Case Funding and priorities for recovery
  • Ensuring flexibility in the provision of legal aid during the pandemic and outlook moving forward
  • Next steps for the use of lawtech and remote legal aid work
  • The future for alternative sources of legal advice - community legal support, developing legal knowledge amongst the public, and improving awareness of and access to services
  • Policy priorities for the legal aid sector moving forward

The background and relevant developments:

  • the Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR), currently being undertaken by the Government, which:
    • has sought to comprehensively review the legal aid fee schemes and legal aid market
    • is aiming to evaluate and improve the legal aid sector by ensuring that:
      • legal aid fees reflect and pay fairly for work done, support market sustainability, and result in proportionate administrative burdens
      • the legal aid market responds flexibly to changes in the wider system, drives efficient case progression, and supports a diverse workforce
      • services are delivered by practitioners with the right skills and experience
      • the system provides value for money
    • the second part of the Review is expected to begin this year and include an independent assessment of the criminal legal aid market, with the aim of improving its sustainability
    • £50m for legal aid sector - from government, aimed at better reflecting the work that goes into preparing cases for trial, following the first part of the of the CLAR
  • The Government’s review of the legal aid means test - with:
    • findings expected to be published in the Spring of 2021, followed by consultation on its proposals
    • Law Society-commissioned research finding significant exclusion from legal aid, and with some in the sector calling for the means test to be restored to its 2010 real-terms level
  • the MoJ’s Legal Support Action Plan - progressing:
    • with additional funding worth £3.1m to go towards supporting those representing themselves in court
    • following an earlier package worth £5.4m for supporting the legal advice sector during the pandemic
  • the MoJ’s Areas of Research Interest publication:
    • identifying legal aid as a priority for future discussions between Government and experts in academia, research and funding bodies, in order to increase available evidence to consider for future policy development and evaluations
    • requesting information on experiences of legal aid services, legal aid outcomes, and factors affecting awareness and uptake

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Government Legal Department; HM Courts and Tribunals Service; the Home Office; the Ministry of Justice and the National Audit Office.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from lawyers, judicial representatives, charities, academics, representatives from think tanks, law centres, community legal services, lawtech providers, pro bono groups, and service-user groups, along with commentators, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Emma Marshall

Research Fellow, Public Law Project

Keynote Speakers

Catherine Baksi

Freelance Legal Affairs Journalist and Author, Legal Hackette’s Brief

Emma Marshall

Research Fellow, Public Law Project

Malcolm Bryant

Head of Exceptional and Complex Cases, Legal Aid Agency

Jelena Lentzos

Deputy Director for Legal Aid Policy, Ministry of Justice


Karen Buck MP

Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid

James Daly MP

Vice-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid


Richard Miller

Head of Justice, Law Society

Stephen Davies

Solicitor, Tuckers Solicitors

Annie Campbell Viswanathan

Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees and former Director, North Kensington Law Centre

Malvika Jaganmohan

Barrister, St Ives Chambers

Dr Ola Olusanya

Director of Learning and Teaching, Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University