LAPSO is leading to less justice, not more, says Bar Council


A survey and report commissioned by the Bar Council concludes that the consequence of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LAPSO), which was passed in 2012 and came into force in 2013, is limiting people’s access to justice.

Since the introduction of LASPO, fewer people have access to free legal representation than since legal aid was introduced in 1949, the report says. Areas of law now almost entirely excluded from legal aid include child custody, divorce, employment, education, debt, housing, welfare law and immigration (except asylum cases).

The report, called ‘LASPO: One Year On', is based on interviews and a survey of over 700 legal practitioners (90 per cent of whom were barristers) working on civil, family and legal aid cases.

The report also found that LASPO cuts have resulted in more people relying on limited pro bono services. Between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014, applications to the Bar Pro Bono Unit increased by nearly a half.

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said: “Much of what we feared about LASPO has come to pass. Individuals dealing with life-changing legal issues are denied fair access to justice if they cannot afford it.”

He added that one consequence was an increase in people representing themselves – Litigants in Person (LiPs). This results in cases not being properly presented, which can lead to extra delays, pressures and costs on the court system, as well as litigants not making points or speaking up when they should, so damaging their case.

The Bar Council urged the UK government to change the criteria for funding cases that now fall outside of legal aid because of LASPO, to include cases of “significant wider public interest” and of “overwhelming importance to the client”.

The Bar Council urged the Government to provide funding for initial specialist legal advice and assistance so individuals do not have to wait for their cases to become urgent and complex, by which point they can be impossible to assist.