Civil legal aid claims fall as campaigners press for review
Paul Rogers for The Times
Civil legal aid claims have continued to fall with the latest figures showing a 3 per cent annual drop as campaigners ramped up pressure on ministers to conduct a review of recent cuts.
Criminal legal aid matters also fell, with the Ministry of Justice figures showing that lower value cases dropped by 4 per cent, while expenditure on higher value cases fell by 6 per cent compared to the previous year.
The figures, released by the government yesterday, have stoked claims from lawyers that the cuts to legal aid four years ago are damaging access to justice. According to the Law Centres Network, there were 2,000 fewer new non-family civil legal aid cases compared with the previous year. It attributed half of that drop to there being fewer housing cases, which fell by 3 per cent compared with the previous year.
The network also claimed that the figures showed a drop in new immigration and mental health cases of between 3 and 6 per cent.
Legal aid lawyers have argued that shrinking legal aid budgets and eligibility are creating a dangerous barrier to access to justice. Yesterday the Law Society, the body that represents solicitors in England and Wales, called for ministers to abide by a commitment given by the previous government to review the implications of the four-year-old legislation.
That call was reiterated yesterday by the law centres, which said: “The ranks of firms and charities that provide civil legal aid in practice have dwindled since the LASPO cuts, driven in particular by a drop in not-for-profit providers.” The network claimed that there were more than 30 per cent fewer offices in England and Wales through which people can get legal aid compared with the year before the cuts began.