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

April 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is examining key issues for the future of legal aid in England and Wales.

Areas for discussion include:

  • how provision can be improved - including access, flexibility and meeting demand 
  • funding and investment in legal aid provision - the future of the legal aid market, fee schemes, value for money, and the sustainability of the sector
  • access to justice - alternative sources of legal advice and developing public legal literacy, the Legal Support Action Plan, the Legal Aid Means Test Review, and tackling legal deserts
  • disruption caused by the pandemic - the impact of court closures and case backlogs, access to Exceptional Case Funding, and the financial viability of some firms 
  • innovation - latest on lawtech and the impact of innovation in process management, security and fraud prevention, as well as remote legal aid work and issues for the digitally disadvantaged 
  • the legal aid workforce - ensuring appropriate levels of support and security, and priorities for promoting diversity, fairness and wellbeing

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

The agenda

  • The current state of play with legal aid in England and Wales
  • Improving the legal aid sector - meeting demand, providing value for money, and developing financially sustainable business models 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:

  • Expert and Advisory Panel appointed for the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid - currently being undertaken, and expected to report to government by the end of the year, 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 CLAR
  • the Government’s review of the legal aid means test - with:
    • findings expected to be published this Spring, followed by consultation on its proposals
    • research commissioned by the Law Society 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 Future of Legal Aid - the Justice Committee’s inquiry, looking at the sustainability of the market, COVID-19, and using digital technology, as well as access, funding, and developing the relationship between lawyers and the Legal Aid Agency
  • High Court ruling relating to legal advice for detainees in prisons and immigration removal centres - finding that the lack of provision of legal aid in prisons is unlawful, on discrimination grounds
  • 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, 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
  • Running on Empty: New report finds serious problems with legal help for the public - the Bar Council’s new report highlighting the latest challenges facing the civil legal aid system, with the closure of many high street solicitors and law centres resulting in: 
    • additional pressures on barrister workloads as they take on more complex and urgent cases
    • more civil cases going to court, putting more claimants through the court process than is necessary, and doing so at the expense of the tax payer

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
    • development of a diverse workforce - and ensuring that support, and changes to pay structures and the working of the sector, take into account the impact on diversity and staff wellbeing
  • disruption caused by the pandemic - the impact on the functioning of the legal aid sector, and priorities for responding to the challenges as well as 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, for thresholds, and for improving availability of early legal support and advice and the sustainability of the civil legal aid system
      • with a consultation expected in the spring
  • 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 - priorities 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 during the pandemic partly due to issues with IT

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; the National Audit Office; and the UKVI. Also due to attend are representatives from Access Charity; Advance Personal Support Services; Bar Council; Central and East Northamptonshire Citizens Advice; CILEx Regulation; Citizens Advice; Doughty Street Chambers; Foresight; Law Society; Legal Services Board; Leiden Law Faculty; NALP; Oxford University; Public Law Project; Relate Mediation London North East & Essex; Shelter; South Wales Law Centre; Support Through Court; The Law Society; Therium Capital Management; University of Cambridge; University of Westminster; Vauxhall Law Centre and Voices.

Press passes have been reserved by representatives from the Financial Times and Legal Futures.

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

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles