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Spending watchdog calls MoJ ‘out of touch’

29th Nov 2014

The National Audit Office (NAO) has stated that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) underestimated the impact of the legal aid cuts they introduced, and is unaware of who is eligible for funding under the new regime.

A new report by the spending watchdog, entitled ‘Implementing Reforms to Civil Legal Aid’, states that although the MoJ is on course to meet its key aim of cutting legal aid by £300m a year, the reforms have also caused a yearly increase of 30% in family court cases in which neither side is represented. There has also been a 56% decrease in referrals for mediation.

The MoJ responded by claiming that legal aid ‘is still getting to people who most need it’, and that ‘significant savings’ had been achieved.

The NAO predicts that ‘unintended consequences’ may cost an extra £3m a year for the court service, costing the MoJ specifically an extra £400,000. It was expected that upon removing legal aid funding for private family law matters, mediation referrals would be increased by 9000 a year and people would be diverted away from the courts, but there has instead been a decrease of 56% in mediation assessments, with 17,246 few cases.

Exceptional case funding is in place to provide legal aid ‘where a failure to do so would breach rights under international law’, but this has not been used as often as planned. Instead of the 5000 to 7000 applications expected by the Legal Aid Agency for 2013/14, it has received only 1520, with just 69 being granted.

The NAO report issues a warning over the possibility that legal aid cuts could have an effect on health and wellbeing, as well as consequences for the wider public sector. The conclusion was that the government did not have a good enough understanding of what the response to the cuts would be when introduced, and that since the cuts were enforced, there has been little monitoring of their effects.