Towards the end of January, the government announced it was scrapping a controversial new contracting scheme for criminal legal aid.
The justice secretary Michael Gove said that there had been ‘significant’ developments since July last year. He said that as a result of economies made by the Ministry of Justice, the Treasury had given him a settlement ‘which allows me greater flexibility in the allocation of funds for legal aid’.
Obviously this is a great result for criminal legal aid, but if HM Treasury has given a settlement for greater flexibility of funds for criminal legal aid, why has civil legal aid not even been though about? Civil legal aid helps people in debt, women escaping violence, prevention of homelessness, etc, all things that has great social value.
In almost 15 years, under the previously Labour government, the Coalition and now the Conservatives, there has been no uplift in the fixed fee we receive under legal help and, I believe, no uplift in legal aid either. In fact we had cuts in fixed fee a few years ago.
Civil legal aid is equally important as criminal aid. Civil legal aid can and does save the state millions possibly billions of pounds every year. Yet we are always hit the hardest, an easy target for cuts. Maybe its just because people do not recognise the hugely significant work that is done under civil legal aid. Maybe it is because our clients are poor, are not glamorous, are not famous, do not grab headlines. But without legal aid, levels of domestic violence, homelessness, debt, etc. Would be much, much higher.