On the 1st April 2013, changes to the law under The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 came into being. From a family law perspective, the Act restricted the availability of legal aid to ‘life and limb’ situations. From April last year legal aid was only available for representation in care proceedings, to obtain protective injunctions and in certain circumstances, in relation to the unlawful removal of children. In order to receive legal aid to be represented in children, finance and divorce applications there is now a very strict list of evidence that the person seeking legal aid must produce before legal aid can be secured, such as evidence of previous domestic abuse.
On the 1st April 2014 the Bar Council, who represents barristers in England and Wales, launched an online survey in order to measure the effects of the legislation on access to justice and the profession generally one year on. On the 12th July 2014 their preliminary findings were revealed.
60% of the practitioners that took part in the survey reported an increase in the number of clients requesting free legal advice and representation. A staggering 88% of practitioners believed there to be a rise in the number of litigants-in-person since the Act came into force.
In terms of the effect that LASPO has had on the profession the participants reported that they were offering more fixed fee, deferred payment and pro bono work than before. 69% of legal aid practitioners reported a decline in fee income since LASPO.
As a family lawyer on the ground it is fair to say that LASPO has also had a great impact upon the court system. A rise in litigants-in-person has caused delays in the administration of hearings and family cases generally as, through no fault of their own, they are left with no choice but to represent themselves with very little understanding of the law and the court process.
The Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Lavender QC, was unsurprised that the preliminary findings confirmed the concerns of everyone in the legal profession in that the implementation of LASPO would show a rise in litigants-in-person, delay to the court process and increased difficulty for individuals seeking to access legal advice and representation. The Chairman calls for a comprehensive review post implementation of LASPO.
For the time being we are stuck with the effects of LASPO. The Family Law Team at Farleys can offer advice and representation when it is needed. Farleys understand the impact that LASPO has had for those with family problems who are unable to access legal advice. Our team of experienced family lawyers are able to advise you in relation to eligibility to receive legal aid. If you are not eligible, we can offer and discuss competitive packages tailored to meet your individual needs.