Response - Proposals for the reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales
By: Elizabeth O'Hara and Simon Pugh Published: February 2011
Shelter is greatly concerned by the Government’s proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales. We believe that if the Government goes ahead with the proposals as they currently stand, the consequences will be far reaching both for the clients of legal aid and for the organisations that deliver advice services to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. We simply cannot reconcile the Government’s claims to protect the most vulnerable with the proposals to reform legal aid in this way.
We do not agree with the Government’s contention that much of the work covered by social welfare law is “practical” rather than “legal” and therefore should not be funded by legal aid. The idea that problems only become legal at the point of court proceedings seems fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of specialist legal advice. Legal aid only funds legal work. In our view, if the government believes that legal aid funding is being spent on non-legal work, it should require the LSC to enforce the existing rules, not amend the scheme to remove legal work from scope.The Government must comply with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We are concerned that these proposals either do not comply, or would require so many cases to be funded as exceptions that there would be little point in proceeding. At the very least, the Government risks opening up an additional sphere of litigation: challenges to refusals to fund. Since such challenges would be way of judicial review of a decision not to fund, they would be covered by legal aid.