Transforming Legal Aid, a Ministry of Justice consultation which was designed to look at the current legal aid process and offer proposals for reform, and which ran from April until June of this year, has now jointly published a press release with the Law Society to alert the public to a series of proposals for improving access to criminal legal aid. These proposals were published today and you can find them on the press release, linked to above.

The proposals as they stand are:

  • Stop criminal legal aid being given to prisoners unnecessarily – such as those seeking an easier ride in another prison. These types of concern can be resolved through the prisoner complaints system – as well as other mechanisms – and do not require a lawyer. This will prevent around 11,000 cases each year being funded unnecessarily by criminal legal aid;
  • Introduce a threshold on Crown Court legal aid to stop the wealthiest defendants with an annual household disposable income of £37,500 or more being automatically granted legal aid, which means we have to fight to get the money back after their trial. This would only affect defendants who have around £3,000 or more left in the bank each month after paying their essential bills – such as food, mortgage or rent, utilities, childcare etc.;
  • Introduce a residency test so that only those with a strong connection to the UK are able to receive civil legal aid. We have listened to comments made on the consultation and will modify our approach in some areas – for example children under 12 months old will not be required to have at least a year of previous lawful residence;
  • Further consult on a revised proposal to discourage weak judicial review cases by tightening up the payment mechanism. We intend to set out further details of this proposal within a wider package on judicial review soon;
  • Make it harder for claimants to use civil legal aid to bring speculative cases by ensuring all cases must have at least a 50% chance of success to be funded. Introduce limited changes to civil and experts’ fees to ensure that they are fair, represent value for money, and reflect fees paid for similar services elsewhere.
  • Reduce the cost of the long-running criminal cases, which place too much of a burden on taxpayers, by 30%. A small number of cases (called Very High Cost Cases) cost a disproportionate amount of the legal aid budget – just one case recently cost more than £8 million in legal aid. In the current economic climate this cannot continue.

Tell us what you think….