The government has updated the impact assessments which had accompanied the original consultation paper published in November 2010: Proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales (Ministry of Justice (MoJ)). LAG had criticised the impact assessments as they were based on figures for cases which were a year out of date and also counted completed cases when estimating the number of cases which would be cut, rather than taking the figure for cases opened (see: The real impact of legal aid advice cuts).
Using up to date figures the government now estimates that around 600,000 people will lose out on help with everyday civil legal problems (its original estimate was just over 500,000): Proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales - consultation response. Impact assessment Annex A: scope (MoJ, June 2011). LAG still argues that the correct amount should be 650,000 as the count should be based on the cases opened in the year as opposed to those closed, but at least the government has corrected its error in the original research.
A total of £280m in funding will be cut from civil legal aid: £130m from Legal Help (advice only) and £150m from legal representation. In the government’s original impact assessment around £64m was to be cut from social welfare law (SWL) legal advice. The total estimate of the cuts for SWL advice has now increased to £80.5m (see Revised figures for cuts in social welfare law for the full breakdown).
An extra £16m is now going to be cut from non-family Legal Help than was originally estimated. This is money spent on advice only in cases. £15m more is being spent on legal representation (£8m on family and £7m on other categories of civil law).
LAG has also updated its figures on the costs to other arms of government of the cuts in legal aid for SWL cases. In total, £60m in expenditure on legal aid advice in SWL saves the state £338.65m in expenditure on other services. Put another way, £1 expenditure on civil legal aid saves the state around £6 in other spending.
Currently, there are around 2,000 firms undertaking civil legal aid work mainly in family law and just under 300 not for profit organisations with legal aid contracts almost entirely in SWL (Annual report and accounts 2010-11, Legal Services Commission, p7).About half of the civil legal aid firms will cease to undertake legal aid work if the Legal Aid Bill becomes law with no major amendments. Much of the work which the not for profit organisations undertake, apart from housing cases in which repossession is threatened, is to be cut. LAG believes that over 80 per cent of the not for profit providers might be forced to leave the legal aid system.
It is the public which will be the biggest loser if these cuts go ahead. We hope the House of Lords uses its power to make the government think again about the worse aspects of this bill.