The figure of 502,000 is quoted in the MoJ’s impact assessment on scope changes as the number of people who will lose out on access to civil legal advice services if the legal aid cuts, which were proposed in November last year, are implemented. The impact assessment was published at the same time as the green paper, Proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales. The consultation closed on 14 February 2011. Over 5,000 responses were sent to the MoJ from both individuals and organisations concerned about the provision of legal aid services. We are currently waiting for the government’s response.
Clearly, at just over half a million, this is a significant number of people who will potentially be denied access to justice if the government goes ahead with its planned cuts in housing, employment, family and other areas of civil legal aid. Not surprisingly, the figure has been seized on by campaigners opposed to the cuts, including the Law Society’s Sound Off For Justice campaign, but LAG believes the true figure is much higher. Double-checking the MoJ’s calculations, LAG found that the civil servants drafting the impact assessment had been, let us say, creative in their interpretation of the data. Comparing the figures in the impact assessment with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) figures in 2008/09 for legal advice cases, a total of 615,880 is arrived at for the number of people who would lose out on legal advice services after the proposed cuts are factored in. The official figures have been underestimated by around 20 per cent. Two factors seem to account for this.
The MoJ appears to have knocked off the statistics for telephone advice, despite the fact that these services will be lost if the cuts to civil legal aid outlined in the consultation paper go ahead. It seems it has also based its projection on the statistics for completed cases as opposed to new cases. By doing this, the number of people who lose out on legal aid is understated by over 40,000. This really is a case of lies, damn lies, and statistics. It gets worse. The MoJ chose to base its impact assessment on statistics which were over a year out of date. If it had used the figures from the LSC for the year ending March 2010, LAG calculates that the true number of people who will lose out on legal aid services is 653,659 (or 617,096 if the completed cases figure is used).
LAG believes the number of cases increased in the year 2009/10 due to the combined impact of the Baby Peter case (though this had no impact on legal help cases), the recession and the last government’s five per cent increase in eligibility levels for legal aid. Using the 2009/10 figures, family cases, for example, show an increase of nearly 23,000 on the previous year. Reflecting the impact of the recession, employment law cases, which are set to be completely removed from legal aid, show a rise of 3,500, an increase of over 12 per cent on the previous year.
What LAG would like to emphasise in publishing this research is that the impact on the number of people seeking help with common legal problems is 30% greater than was previously estimated by the government. We believe this provides a further reason for ministers to think again about imposing the planned cuts. If they do not, over 650,000 people stand to lose out on legal advice.
Read LAG's full report: The real impact of legal aid advice cuts