In April 2013 the Government introduced the legislation which we all know as LASPO. So dramatic were the changes, that two phrases in common usage are now Pre-LASPO and Post-LASPO. As far as Access to Justice is concerned the world was never the same again.
There was fierce opposition to the ‘reforms’ almost all of which fell on stony ground. The Government promised a review after 5 years. So we have all been on the edge of seats waiting for April 2018 to arrive. Sadly, the review is not happening any time soon. We were told that it could be done by the summer but this is now described as ambitious –
The Beatles once sang – ‘I’ve got no car and its breaking my heart, but I’ve found a driver and that’s a start’. Similarly, we have no review and its breaking our hearts. But we do have Post Implementation Review Evidence Gathering Exercise Terms of Reference – and that’s a start!
This is the first of a series of posts looking at this document and how those of us who are concerned about justice can most effectively respond.
The Terms of Reference remind us of the objectives for the ‘reforms’ published in 2010, the first of which was –
To discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense
Looking at that statement eight years on it is remarkable that it managed to miss the point by such a huge margin. The most effective role played by Legal Aid was not the funding of litigation, but avoiding litigation in the first place. Let’s look at Housing Advice. Most people believe that all Legal Aid has been abolished. It is available for those who are at risk of losing their home, although this is not widely publicised. Even where legal aid is available there has been a relentless pressure on providers leading to legal aid deserts, according to The Law Society –
Many housing problems can be sorted if addressed early. Experienced lawyers, and other advice agencies, can contact landlords and local authorities, provide debt advice and in many cases resolve the problem before it gets out of hand. This is particularly important where cuts to legal aid have been imposed alongside changes to benefit entitlement. The right to legal aid is now so convoluted that you cannot get legal advice for help over rent or mortgage arrears. But you can get legal aid once there are possession proceedings.
Effective early advice is less expensive than representation at court. Is there a more effective way to - To discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense?
If the government remains serious about this objective then it needs acknowledge that it is better for all if problems are headed off at the pass before litigation become inevitable.
A former justice minister and QC, Lord Faulks, once observed that litigation was – ‘very much an optional activity’. Sadly, fighting for your home is not the same as collecting stamps or birdwatching. But stressful and expensive litigation can often be avoided if people can get access to prompt professional advice.
This should be a primary objective of the review whenever it happens….