The government today published a consultation paper with proposals for further cuts and reforms to legal aid.
The main proposals are:
- Restricting prison law to cases involving determination of a criminal charge, right to review of detention, or where representation is considered necessary in a disciplinary hearing. To be implemented autumn 2013
- Restricting Crown Court legal aid to those with a household income below £37,500, subject to hardship provisions. Acquitted defendants refused legal aid will be reimbursed at legal aid rates. Implementation autumn 2013
- Residence test for civil legal aid – it would only be available to those who are lawfully resident in the UK and have actually resided here for 12 months, armed forces personnel and asylum seekers and refugees. LASPO exceptional funding will not be subject to the residence test. Implementation autumn 2013
- Funding for judicial review cases between issue and permission will be conditional on grant of permission (disbursements will be paid in any event). Even if the case settles pre-permission in favour of the claimant, there will be no right to payment. However, contrary to some press reports costs protection will still apply. Implementation autumn 2013.
- Abolishing the “borderline” category so that only civil legal aid cases where prospects of success are clearly over 50% will be funded. Implementation autumn 2013.
- Price competitive tendering for all criminal work except Crown Court advocacy and VHCCs. A defined number of exclusive contracts per area will be let; overall, suppliers will reduce from 1600 to less than 400. PDS to be guaranteed a contract. Clients will be allocated a provider and will not have a choice. Providers will bid below maximum costs per case cap. The cap will be 17.5% lower than current fees. Procurement process to start October 2013 and conclude by June 2014.
- Harmonise Crown Court plea and trial fees and reduce daily rates. Implementation autumn 2013
- Reduce VHCC fees by 30% – including for ongoing cases. Implementation autumn 2013
- Restrict appointment of QCs and multiple advocates in the Crown Court. Implementation autumn 2013
- Require litigators to support advocates in the Crown Court. Implementation October 2014
- Reduce standard fees and hourly rates in child care cases by 10%. Implementation April 2014.
- Changes to FAS to be announced following creation of single family court. Implementation April 2014
- Reduce hourly rates payable to barristers in civil (non-family) cases in the County Court and High Court to the rates paid to solicitors for advocacy. Implementation autumn 2013
- Remove the 35% “at risk” uplift payable in immigration and asylum Upper Tribunal cases. Implementation autumn 2014
- Future (when not specified) introduction of single national (rather than regional or London) payment rates
- Reduce crime and civil expert rates (apart from independent social workers) by 20%. Implementation autumn 2013.
- Further consultation in the autumn on changes to eligibility for legal aid
The consultation closes on 4th June.