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Friday, 24 January 2014

In which the government cuts back on access to justice but splashes cash on on IT system...

We haven’t talked about legal aid for a while. That’s no great surprise as there is very little left. I have previously referred to Access to Justice as a wasteland.

There has been one glimmer of hope recently. But it remains doubtful whether it will be any more than that.

Earlier his month we saw the publication of the Low Commission on Legal Aid. This Report from the group led by Lord Low makes a number of recommendations. There is a call for urgent steps to be taken to ensure access to justice for the most vulnerable especially in relation to housing, debt and welfare rights. Interestingly the report suggests a £100m fund partly financed by the government and partly from other sources including a levy on pay day loan companies.

It makes the obvious, but very important point that voluntary agencies are simply not able to cope. So will this report make any difference? Sadly I am less than optimistic. In his December 2013 statement the Chancellor, George Osborne promised further cuts in public spending with the Ministry of Justice in the firing line –

Experience shows that access to justice for ordinary people is low on the agenda for this government.

But the government does manage to find money for some rather less useful projects.

The Legal Agency recently spent £54.3m on an upgrade to its online application and billing system. The launch of this upgrade has been deferred –

So funds almost exactly matching the Low Commission's recommendation for the government's contribution to a Legal Aid Scheme, have just been thrown at an IT system, which doesn’t seem to be working.

Can anybody explain the logic?

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