Westminster Update: Government announces investment in criminal legal aid

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1. Government announces investment in legal aid

the the government announced the first substantial injection of funds for criminal legal aid in 25 years, Tuesday 15 March.

The Lord Chancellor has announced that the Ministry of Justice has agreed to a 15% increase in nearly all criminal legal aid rates, as recommended by the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid in its report published last year last. Further changes to fee structures alongside increased investment should also help ensure that the fees paid better reflect the work required on the business.

Along with this commitment, the government will also:

  • implement an advisory committee’s recommendation from the review to support collaborative thinking across the justice system, and
  • establish training grants to help encourage new lawyers to work in criminal legal aid

The Law Society, which has been calling for significant investments in the criminal legal aid system for several years, welcomed these proposals as a first step towards improving the sustainability of the criminal justice system. It’s unclear, however, whether this new funding will be enough to stem the exodus of many lawyers from criminal legal aid work. We will now focus on making sure the uprising reaches practitioners as soon as possible.

Speaking in the House of CommonsLord Chancellor Dominic Raab said the funding would put criminal legal aid on a “sustainable footing” and welcomed the Law Society’s response to the announcement.

The government will now consult on its proposals until June, with a regulatory text to be presented to parliament after the consultation period, to implement the fee changes.

Read our response

Respond to the consultation

2. Legal aid means extending test eligibility

The government announced proposals to extend criminal and civil legal aid eligibility, with a £20m funding boost to raise resource thresholds, on Tuesday 15 March. The government will consult on proposed changesalongside the separate consultation on changes to legal aid in criminal matters.

The Department of Justice said the proposals will make an additional 3.5 million people eligible for criminal legal aid, while two million more people will become eligible for civil legal aid. The financial cap on the eligibility of defendants in the Crown Court will also be removed.

The Law Society campaigned for these changes, with our research highlighting how many people below the minimum income standard were forced to pay levies for legal aid costs, despite not being able to afford them. . We have welcomed the government’s announcements but remain concerned about:

  • the level of bureaucracy for people on universal credit applying for legal aid, and
  • whether there are enough civil and criminal legal aid firms to meet public demand

Respond to the consultation

3. SLAPP reform plans announced by the government

The government has launched a consultation on proposals to address strategic public participation lawsuits (SLAPPs) following a statement from the Lord Chancellor Thursday (March 17).

The government consultation will consider whether:

  • a legal definition can be established to create a higher threshold for SLAPP cases
  • courts need stronger powers to strike out these abuse of process cases

The government will also consider strengthening public interest defenses in defamation law, limiting court costs in SLAPP cases and allowing courts to impose restraining orders on repeat litigants.

A broader review of defamation law safeguards will be undertaken, and the regulatory regime will also be reviewed. The Lord Chancellor noted in his statement to Parliament that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) recently issued new guidance on SLAPPS, and said his department will assess whether the guidance works and is sufficient.

The government’s consultation will continue until May 19 and the Barreau will present a brief.

Furthermore, the Committee on Foreign Affairs held a session on SLAPPs Tuesday (March 15). A number of law firms were named as having filed SLAPPs on behalf of their clients, and a number of proposals to address the issue were put forward by witnesses during the session.

4. The Economic Crimes Act receives Royal Assent

The law on economic crimes had its committee stage and all remaining stages in the House of Lords on Monday (March 14) before receiving Royal Assent the same evening.

A number of government amendments were introduced and passed by the House of Lords, including several that helped close potential loopholes regarding the registration of beneficiaries of trusts – a key issue the Law Society has highlighted in its hearings. information to parliamentarians.

The Law Society was directly mentioned in the debate by Lord Fox (Liberal Democrat), who quoted our presentation on his amendment to extend a duty of due diligence to all stages of client care and transactional work/ advice. He acknowledged our argument that this would “create a significant burden on professional services such as law firms which would be difficult for them to respect”, suggesting that it shows that “there is work to be done in this domain”. In the end, the amendment was not put to the vote.

The Law Society has welcomed the passage of the law, which we believe gives investigators a much better ability to shed light on who is the beneficial owner of property in the UK.

We have also argued that the Government should seek to make further improvements during the implementation of the Act, including completing the reform of Companies House and resolving some of the remaining problems in the scheme for those in business. significant scrutiny, to ensure that the new legislation is as strong as it can be.

Find out what changes with the law

Future

The Law Society will work closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

If you have come this far…

Take a look at our civil legal aid desert maps, showing how millions of people are unable to access a local civil legal aid provider. Since 2018, legal aid deserts in housing, community care and other areas have worsened, denying many people a path to justice.