Could Legal Aid be made more accessible?
March 24, 2022
“Everyone deserves access to justice, whatever their financial circumstances. Legal aid is absolutely crucial to a fair justice system because it opens up legal representation to people who would otherwise be unable to pay for it.*”
“Access to justice is a fundamental principle underpinning the rule of law; and for access to justice to be effective, we must have a legal aid system which is accessible to those who need it.*”
As lawyers, we are routinely asked by clients as to whether they may be eligible for legal aid funding. Legal aid funding enables a person to receive legal advice and services, and representation at court, when they may not otherwise be able to pay privately. For the most part, in order to be eligible, a person has to satisfy tests in relation to ‘means’ and ‘merits’*.
When assessing a person’s eligibility based on their means (their financial situation), the purpose is to ensure that those who need legal assistance but cannot pay for it are not prevented from getting advice, but also that those who can afford to pay a contribution, do so.
There is currently a review in progress in relation to the availability of legal aid funding. The reason for the review is because a problem has been identified with the current system, specifically that the income and capital threshold (the cut-off limit for legal aid) has not been updated for over a decade. The review aims to increase access to legal aid, and thereby increase access to justice.
The proposal aims to create a means test which is fairer, to help ensure that people can access legal services when needed.
More detail can be found on the gov.uk website, but in essence, it is proposed that the threshold for income and capital will be increased, allowing more people to fall within the limits of eligibility. In some civil cases the means test entirely will no longer be applicable.
In relation to domestic abuse, the foreword to the review explains:
We want to do even more to support victims of domestic abuse – for whom legal proceedings can be both traumatic and costly. Under our plans, domestic abuse victims applying for a protective order or other proceedings would benefit from the more generous means test for civil legal aid. And any disputed assets – including property – will not be included in a means assessment. This is much fairer for domestic abuse victims who are contesting a property and who cannot use their equity in that property to fund the legal proceedings.
Our proposals will make a real difference to the way people are able to access legal services – whether they are seeking to protect themselves from harm, to stop their home being repossessed, or to defend themselves at a criminal trial. Our aim for these reforms is to deliver a more dynamic and efficient justice system for the future.
So what does this mean?
Well, if the proposals are implemented, it will mean that more people will be eligible for legal aid funding. This will mean that more people will have better access to justice to help with their family law disputes. Whether a person is fleeing an abusive relationship, or simply cannot afford legal advice due to their income, these proposals will help improve access to legal advice and representation.
AFG already have a wealth of experience in assessing a person’s eligibility for legal aid funding and applying for this if so.
If you have a family law query and you are not sure whether you may be eligible for legal aid, call us and one of our family team can discuss the options with you. We can also offer fixed fee packages for clients that wish to keep their legal costs as low as possible.
Contact our family team today on 01204 377600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*In some cases, such as where there are public law proceedings, the means assessment does not hinder a person’s eligibility.