The LSC and its sponsoring government department, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), outlined a major programme of reforms for legal aid on Tuesday 28 November which are aimed at ensuring the system remains sustainable for the future.
'Legal Aid Reform: the Way Ahead' flows from Lord Carter's independent review of how legal aid services are purchased and the consultation that followed.
The LSC has endorsed Lord Carter's key recommendation to move payment for legal aid services from a system of hourly rates to one of best value tendering based on quality, capacity and price. Fixed and graduated fees will be introduced as part of this.
We received 2,372 responses to the consultation, and also heard from providers and representative bodies at a series of information events held during the consultation. These responses have significantly influenced our thinking and as a result, we have adjusted the timing and detail of changes to some of the schemes.
All organisations currently holding a legal aid contract will receive a copy of 'Legal Aid Reform: the Way Ahead' by DX or post. Copies are being posted by 29 November so should be with providers shortly. An electronic copy is also available in the Related Documents section on this page.
Lord Falconer said: -
"Our vision is of a legal aid system that continues to provide high quality advice while remaining financially sustainable and fit for the demands and challenges of the 21st century.
"The legal aid system is one of the pillars of the welfare state. It provides access to justice for those who otherwise could not afford it. All of us who work in legal aid recognise this. But we also recognise that it must be sustainable and fair to the taxpayer.
"We said we needed a fairer deal for legal aid which would be fair to the vulnerable, fair to taxpayers, fair to defendants and fair to practitioners. These reforms will deliver that."
Vera Baird said:
"I held twenty five meetings with practitioners , across the country, over the summer months and have continued to talk to a range of other lawyers meeting since. In almost every meeting powerful points were raised and our proposals have gained a great deal from that input for which I am very grateful.
"Our reforms will safeguard access to justice for the socially excluded and vulnerable, with the aim of re-balancing towards a greater provision of legal aid for civil law advising those most in need, for example on housing, debt and employment rights.
"We aren't making cuts to civil or family legal aid, we are maintaining expenditure on it. But we do need to encourage greater and more consistent efficiency.
"The reforms are centred on a sustainable market-based approach that gives the most efficient providers incentives to continue in operation and grow their businesses. We believe that there are real opportunities here for the professions.
"One of our main aims will be to engage our partners in the criminal justice system to ensure that we tackle those issues - local and national - which place unnecessary cost on providers and hence on the legal aid budget."
Changes include introducing:
- Fixed fees for work in police stations from October 2007 as an interim measure, prior to the introduction of best value tendering on an area basis from October 2008;
- Revised standard fees for magistrates' court work will be introduced in major urban areas from April 2007, prior to moving to best value tendering for this work by October 2008;
- A revised graduated fees scheme for advocates in the Crown Court from April 2007;
- A litigators graduated fees for Crown Court work from October 2007;
- A single graduated fee scheme in October 2008, which will combine fees for both Crown Court litigators and advocates;
- A Care Proceedings Graduated Fee scheme from October 2007 following a further consultation early next year. Similarly, a revised scheme for family - Help Private from October 2007 following a consultation;
- The Tailored Fixed Fee Replacement scheme for solicitors and the not-for-profit sector providing civil legal help in October 2007; and
- Revised schemes for family, immigration and mental health work
Lord Carter said;
"I welcome the Government's support for our proposals published in July. Our report was the result of extensive consultation and discussion with the professions and others with an interest in establishing a sustainable legal aid system.
"I also support the timetable for implementation that has been set, in particular the pulling forward of the introduction of competition.
"I hope that all parts of the legal aid system will now work together to make these changes work for benefit of users, suppliers and the wider community."