A Commons debate looking into the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) legal aid funding has been organised by Sir Robert Neill MP.

Sir Neill, who is a barrister and the current chair of Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, tweeted on Wednesday that he wanted access to justice and legal aid to be priorities for the MOJ in the coming months.

In a piece for Politics Home published on 10 October, Neill said, “A reduction in expenditure [for legal aid], coupled with restrictions on eligibility, have raised questions on access to justice, with the reality on the ground indicating that many vulnerable people are encountering difficulties securing advice or representation.”

The House of Commons Library briefing offers a summary on the history of legal aid:

“The state-run legal aid scheme as we know it today came into being in 1949, with the passage of the Legal Aid and Advice Act. This was followed by considerable growth in annual legal aid spending in England & Wales, rising to a peak in 2003-04. Continuing high costs led to calls for reform, from the mid-2000s to the time of the change of Government in 2010.

Spending was cut sharply from 2010-11 onwards, at a rate of around 10% per year. This was in the context of reforms associated with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). LASPO, among other things, greatly reduced the coverage of civil legal aid by removing certain types of case from its scope.

On 30 October 2017 David Lidington, then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, announced that he had asked officials to commence a post-implementation review of some of the LASPO reforms. The Ministry of Justice published the outcome of the review in February 2019. At the same time, it published an action plan intended to address some of the issues raised during the review.

The response to the review was mixed. Sir Robert Neill, chair of the Justice Committee, described the publication of the review as “a critical moment in the future of legal support in the justice system” and “well overdue”, although cautioned that proposals for further reviews and research “risked being seen as kicking the can down the road.”

On 7 September 2020 the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into ‘The Future of Legal Aid’. The inquiry is accepting evidence until 2 November 2020.”

Legal aid has become increasingly difficult for families and victims of domestic abuse to access despite some easements for domestic violence victims and parents wanting to challenge adoption and placement orders.

The debate takes place today at 3.10pm in Westminster Hall.

You can download a report on the spending of the MOJ on legal aid here.