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Chair's statement: Implementing reforms to civil legal aid

20 November 2014

A statement from The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts:

"It is all well and good that the Ministry of Justice is meeting its objective of cutting spending on civil legal aid, but it is doing this without knowing what the knock on effects might be for other organisations and people needing advice.

The Ministry is out of touch with reality and has shown no understanding of the wider cost of its reforms. The reforms have led to thousands more people representing themselves in court, increasing hearing lengths and placing pressure on judges and court staff. This means more court resources are used, potentially costing HM Courts and Tribunals Service £3.4 million in 2013-14.

It is concerning that there were 8,110 more cases involving children in which neither parent had legal representation last year, an increase of 89% from 2012-13. At the same time, the use of family mediation nosedived, with referrals falling by 56% in 2013-14.

Nobody knows whether demand for civil legal aid is being met. There is uneven provision of civil legal aid, with no providers in 14 local authority areas starting face-to-face advice in the year after the reforms. The Ministry has no idea whether this is because no one in these areas is eligible for legal aid, or because they’re entitled to it but can’t get it. The vast majority (92%) of Citizens Advice Bureaux are finding it hard to refer people to the legal advice they need.

Achieving value for money is not just about cutting costs and I look forward to hearing how the Ministry and Legal Advice Agency will take steps to improve its implementation of the reforms."

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