Legal aid changes take effect

Posted: 4th April 2013

Cameron&OsborneOn 1 April, the legal aid system – which has for decades supplied legal representation for those unable to afford to pay for it themselves – was significantly changed to reduce the cost to the taxpayer. The changes were brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 ("LASPO").

There have been significant changes to the eligibility criteria, which effectively remove the availability of legal aid for many areas of civil law, including:

  • most family law, including divorce and child custody;
  • personal injury and some clinical negligence cases;
  • most immigration cases;
  • some debt, housing and benefit issues; and
  • most employment and education law issues.

There will continue to be legal aid available in cases concerning:

  • family law, when domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction is involved;
  • asylum issues;
  • mental health issues; and
  • debt problems or housing issues when the repossession of a home is an immediate risk.

Until 1 April, those with assets of less then £3,000 qualified for full legal aid and those with assets up to £8,000 qualified for partial legal aid.

It is intended that the changes will provide an incentive for more people to undertake mediation in order to resolve their issues, particularly with regard to the consequences of family break-up.

Where help is available, a mandatory 'telephone gateway' will be the required route for seeking legal advice in most cases in respect of three categories of work. These are:

  • debt;
  • special educational needs; and
  • discrimination.

The denial of legal representation in some cases will undoubtedly mean instances of rough justice or outright unfairness for those who do not benefit from high quality professional advice.