Royal Assent fails to dampen fight against legal aid cuts in new Act
Legal groups have vowed to press on with their fight against legal aid cuts, despite the fact that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is now on the statute books.
Legal Action Group (LAG) director Steve Hynes said campaign work could focus on s 92 of LASPO, which gives the government discretion to bring areas of the law back into scope. It could be used, for example, to re-instate legal aid for family law if the family courts were unable to cope.
“We see that as an opportunity,” says Hynes.
LASPO gained Royal Assent last week after a bumpy ride through the House of Lords. Legal aid will cease to be available for many areas of family and civil law from April 2013. Hynes says: “It is a misconceived and unjust piece of legislation and we will be continuing to campaign against it.
“It’s very vague; for example, we have yet to see the exact wording of the regulations around domestic violence. The provision on ‘exceptional cases’ is the catch-all part of the legislation and we think lawyers will push this as far as possible.
“When there are legal aid changes, there is always a period where the law is not settled and there are lots of challenges, judicial reviews and pushing at the boundaries. We will be encouraging that as much as possible.”
He says LAG plans to “make it an election issue” for the 2015 general election.
Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, says she understands the government is expecting there to be “thousands” of “exceptional cases” each year—currently, about 200 are funded annually.
“There are a huge amount of grey areas,” she says................."