Bar Council report claims LASPO 2012 damages access to justice
18 September 2014
The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and
Wales, has today published a report, based on interviews and a
survey of legal practitioners, assessing the impact of the Legal
Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 on our
system of justice a year after implementation in April 2013.
Since the introduction of LASPO, fewer people have access to
free legal Representation than since legal aid was introduced in
1949. Areas of law now almost entirely excluded from legal aid
include child custody, divorce, employment, education, debt,
housing, welfare law and immigration (except asylum cases).
Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar
"Much of what we feared about LASPO has come to pass.
Individuals dealing with life-changing legal issues are denied fair
access to justice if they cannot afford it.
"A rise in self-representation is clogging the courts and
creating additional costs to the tax payer, free frontline legal
advisors are creaking under the strain, pro bono lawyers cannot
cope with the demand, and the safety net the government created for
providing legal aid in 'exceptional cases' is not fit for
The increased number of Litigants in Person (LiPs), particularly
in the family and civil courts, is placing unprecedented pressures
on courts and voluntary services. Nearly 90% of respondents who
work with family courts and 70% of respondents from civil courts
reported an increase in self-representation. This results in cases
not being properly presented, which can lead to extra delays,
pressures and costs on the court system, as well as litigants not
making points or speaking up when they should, so damaging their
More research is needed and the Bar Council urges the Government
to collect more data on LiPs in civil and family courts, to
simplify the documents which they are required to complete, and to
work with voluntary agencies to direct LiPs to any available
'LASPO: One Year On' also highlights that whilst the Ministry of
Justice estimated that 5,000-7,000 applications a year would be
made for legal aid in 'exceptional circumstances' and that the
majority of applications would be granted, in reality between April
2013 and March 2014 only 1,519 applications for exceptional funding
were made, and a mere 57 granted.
The Bar Council urges the Government to change the criteria for
funding cases which now fall outside of legal aid because of LASPO,
to include cases of 'significant wider public interest' and of
'overwhelming importance to the client'.
The report also found that LASPO cuts have resulted in more
people relying on limited pro bono services. Between 1 April 2013
and 31 March 2014, applications to the Bar Pro Bono Unit increased
by nearly 50%. One frontline free legal service provider said: "We
are seeing a 40% increase, and one month an 80% increase in
applications and that is massive. It means a lot more people are
going to go unassisted."
The Bar Council urges the Government to provide funding for
initial specialist legal advice and assistance so individuals do
not have to wait for their cases to become urgent and complex, by
which point they can be impossible to assist.
Nicholas Lavender QC said:
"There is a clear consensus between barrister and frontline
service provider interviewees that LASPO has had a significant
detrimental impact on access to justice."
Notes to Editors
1. 'LASPO: One Year On' is based on research drawn from semi
structured interviews with barristers and frontline free legal
service providers, and a survey of over 700 legal practitioners
(90% of whom are barristers) working on civil, family and legal aid
cases. The report was carried out in order to look at the effects
of the legislation on access to justice and on the legal profession
one year on from the LASPO Act coming into effect.
2. Read the report
3. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press
Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
4. The Bar
Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It
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Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions
through the independent Bar Standards