Justice Minister Dominic Raab has rejected calls for early legal advice to be made eligible for public funding.
Last month the Law Society released the results of a poll which, they said, demonstrated a clear link between receiving expert legal advice at an early stage in family law and housing disputes and the litigant’s chances of resolving their case quickly.
Vice President Christina Blacklaws said the extension of legal aid to early advice would help avoid expensive delays.
“The current situation is unsustainable. If early advice was available to those who need it, issues could be resolved before they worsen and become more costly for the individual – and the public purse.”
Legal aid for early advice has also attracted support from Solicitor General Robert Buckland, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Tory MP Bob Neill, and Supreme Court President Lady Hale, who insisted earlier this year that “so many problems” could be solved.
But, speaking in the House of Commons this week, Mr Raab dismissed the claims, saying the government was already working to address the concerns expressed. He told Labour MP Emma Hardy:
“We provide a wide range of legal help, for example in civil and family cases. Last year we spent £100m on legal help, including practical support and telephone helplines that provided advice on 20,000 occasions.”
“There are also online tools to make it clear to people when legal aid is available, but other sources of legal advice are also available.”
Bob Neill, also present in Parliament, noted a recent sharp fall in mediation, telling the Justice Minister:
“… the numbers using mediation have dropped massively, and all the evidence indicates that that is because early legal advice is a gateway to mediation for assisted parties and reduces the burden of litigants in person in the courts. Is it not time that the minister looked again at the issue?”
But Mr Raab said that a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act would examine the issues, suggesting that “positive incentives” would play as important a role as money in any future changes.