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Citizens Advice response to the Justice Committee report on legal aid

30 March 2011

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“We welcome this report, which clearly recognises that the Ministry of Justice has provided insufficient evidence to justify proceeding with massive changes to the scope of civil legal aid without having fully considered all the options for reducing costs and preserving crucial areas of advice.

“The Committee shares our concerns that the Ministry of Justice’s proposals sit uneasily with the Government’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable in society. It also recognises that – as we have made clear - the proposals could mean an uncertain future for the sustainability of not-for-profit advice providers.  Every year thousands of our clients need help from civil legal aid services at moments of real need. Withdrawal of legal aid for social welfare advice with no alternative on offer will leave the most vulnerable overwhelmed by problems with nowhere to turn.

“We would urge the Ministry to undertake further work to scope out legal and procedural reforms which could improve efficiency, reduce costs and save frontline services. By engaging more widely with stakeholders able to reach different client groups, solutions can be found which will fulfil the Ministry’s objective to deliver a less costly and bureaucratic system in which legal solutions are used proportionately and people can be empowered to access their rights, resolve their problems and obtain redress through appropriate channels.

“The Ministry is making far-reaching reforms to the civil justice system which should be judged by whether they increase access to justice. We fear that the combined effect of proposed reforms to legal aid and legal costs could have the opposite effect.”

Last year more than 300 specialist Citizens Advice Bureau case workers - paid for by legal aid funding in social welfare law - dealt with over 40,000 welfare benefit cases, almost 60,000 debt cases, over 9,000 housing case and 3,000 employment cases, accounting for over 20% of all publicly funded cases in these topic areas.

Notes to editors:

TheMinistry ofJusticeannounced their proposals for Legal Aid reforms in a consultation Green Paper published on November 15th http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/legal-aid-reform-151110.htm.

The Justice Select Committee's Report is a consideration of the impact of the Government’s legal proposed aid reform

On the same day the Ministry of Justice also started consulting onrelated reforms to civil litigation costs. The Lord Chancellor's announcement yesterday covers these http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement290311a.htm

Citizens Advice is an active member of the Justice for All coalition which is the campaign to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live. www.justice-for-all.org.uk

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk
  3. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 7.1 million problems from April 2009 to March 2010, an 18% increase on the previous year. For full 2009/2010 service statistics see: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/press_20100517
  4. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable. (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
  5. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,300 service outlets across England and Wales.