The Post Implementation Review (PIR) of the first six months of means testing in the magistrates? courts has been completed.
The review's findings show that means testing was introduced on time and on budget and remains on course to deliver its projected annual savings of ?35 million.
The scheme is a core element of the government?s wider legal aid reform package to help achieve more effective control over criminal legal aid expenditure. This will ensure resources are better focused on those areas of civil and family legal aid where they are most needed.
The review of the first six months of the scheme, including its wider impact on the criminal justice system, assessed whether the anticipated benefits from means testing are being delivered.
It acknowledges that the new scheme has presented some operational challenges. It sets out measures to tackle these issues effectively and drive up efficiency across the criminal justice system.
One of the review?s most significant recommendations is to extend the ?passporting? provisions for youths so that all defendants appearing before the youth court and all under 18-year-olds appearing before the magistrates? court are exempt from the means test.
This change will be implemented on 1 November 2007. All cases will still need to satisfy the Interests of Justice test.
Welcoming the review, Justice Minister Lord Hunt said:
?The aim of means testing is to ensure that those who can pay for their criminal defence do so, and forms part of the wider legal aid objective of providing fair justice at a fair price.
?This is essential if the system is to remain sustainable: legal aid spending has risen from ?1.5 billion in 1997/98 to over ?2 billion in 2005/06, with a 35% rise in real terms in criminal legal aid.
?The savings generated by the means test will help control criminal legal aid expenditure and enable the targeting of resources where they are most needed, on civil and family advice and assistance. Since 2004 the number of civil and family acts of assistance, excluding asylum, has risen from 600,000 to 800,000. The criminal legal aid reform package will help to support this trend.?