Legal Aid Scheme

Justice written question – answered on 12th September 2013.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether his estimate of potential savings in the legal aid budget assumes a potential increase in costs to the court system arising from additional numbers of litigants in person.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Legal aid is paid for by taxpayers and resources are not limitless, especially in the current economic climate and we have had to make some tough decisions. The reforms to legal aid contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, implemented on 1 April 2013, safeguard legal aid to ensure legal advice is available for those who really need it.

While the reforms may result in an increase in numbers of litigants in person (LiPs), it is not immediately evident that this will result in increased costs for the courts. The impact assessment which accompanied the Act set out a number of actions that the MOJ will, and is now, taking to monitor the impacts on the courts.

The Ministry of Justice has established a Litigants in Person Programme Board which, as part of its responsibilities, monitors the impact of the legal aid changes in relation to litigants in person. The board includes members from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Judicial Office and will be considering the impact of the changes on the effective running of the courts and tribunals. There are no plans to prepare or publish a report of the board's work.

In addition, Ministers and officials in the MOJ meet regularly with HMCTS and members of the judiciary and will receive regular feedback on the impact of the changes.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice's Analytical Services team has commissioned a research project to develop the evidence base on the range of litigants in person in private law family cases, their behavioural drivers, support needs and their impact on the court system.

The research includes two key elements:

(1) a detailed analysis of all cases listed for a hearing in five target courts over a three-week data collection period, involving observation of the hearings, interviews with the parties and the professionals associated with the case and scrutiny of the court file; and

(2) a local contextual study, designed to pick up the broader processes and perspectives relevant to litigants in person.

The aim is to improve our understanding of the full range of cases involving litigants in person and how their needs are supported during the court process.

Finally, between 9 April and 4 June 2013 the Government consulted on a number of proposals to reform legal aid via the ‘Transforming Legal Aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system’ consultation. We have been clear we must continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid, including nearly £1 billion of taxpayers' money spent on criminal legal aid a year, to ensure we are getting the best deal for the taxpayer. The impact assessments (IAs) published alongside the consultation paper contain the Government's initial assessment of the impact of the proposals, including the data on which the assessments were made. We noted a potential increase in litigants in person as a risk in the IAs, but the numbers were too uncertain to quantify and/or cost.

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