The government has announced an expansion of civil legal aid, focussing on domestic abuse and eviction cases. The Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme will be reformed, providing legal advice both before and during court appearances for eviction and repossession. This is combined with a further annual investment of £10 million into housing legal aid. Meanwhile, victims of domestic abuse will soon be entitled to free expert legal advice and court representation, following the issue of protection notices and orders. This expansion forms part of a planned £2.2 billion legal aid investment over the next three years.
However, there is some criticism of this announcement. The domestic violence element will only be available ‘following a future pilot’, the details of which have not been specified. Similarly, the housing element is the same expansion that was announced by the previous government back in May of this year. A 2021 review by the Westminster Commission on Legal Aid identified many problems in civil legal aid dating back to the financial restrictions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The review stated that ‘the legal aid system as it stands is not sufficient. Nor is it sustainable.’ A Justice Committee review of the same year noted that ‘it is frustrating, and yet unsurprising, that many of the concerns raised [by previous reviews in 2015 and 2019] have been highlighted in evidence to this inquiry.’ Yet another review is planned by the Legal Aid Commission. Despite these many reviews, concrete action is limited and lacking.
“By making it easier for victims to access legal aid, more people will be better supported through court proceedings and can start the process of moving on safely with their lives”, Lord Bellamy KC, the Justice Minister, said.
Criminal legal aid has also been expanded recently, but in more dramatic circumstances. Criminal barristers recently ended strike action having secured a 15% raise in legal aid fees. Solicitors are considering similar action.
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