How will legal aid now be made available in discrimination and education cases? It is the Lord Chancellor's duty to secure it

Published: February 6 2018

How will legal aid now be made available in discrimination and education cases? It is the Lord Chancellor's duty to secure it

The Public Law Project has long had concerns that, far from ensuring the efficient provision of legal advice, the mandatory telephone gateway is a barrier to access to justice.  This was the conclusion of an independent review of the Gateway published by PLP in March 2015.  We also found that there appeared to be a corollary between the Gateway’s mandatory channel of service delivery and less favourable case outcomes; and that the Gateway was not achieving value for money. Statistics published by the Legal Aid Agency in late 2017 show that the numbers of people receiving face-to-face advice through the Gateway in discrimination cases had fallen off to zero in 2016/17, and only 1 education case.  In addition, a worryingly low number of legal representation certificates have been granted in these categories for representation in court – just 33 discrimination cases were granted legal representation certificates over the whole of the first four years after LASPO, despite the Government’s acceptance during the passage of LASPO that it was ‘more than axiomatic’ that Discrimination matters are ‘important and that people who are less able to articulate their case or defend themselves should have priority.’ 

 Against this background, PLP notes with interest the LAA’s announcement yesterday that it is cancelling the procurement process for the Civil Legal Advice contracts in education and discrimination.  The LAA says that there were not enough bidders. In all the circumstances, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is little interest in delivery of such a contract. We would suggest it is time for the Ministry of Justice to recognise that the "gateway" and associated services do not deliver access to justice or value for money.  Our strongly held view is that the MOJ should abandon the mandatory telephone gateway for these areas of law. In any event, the Lord Chancellor now needs to make clear how he proposes to secure that legal aid is made available in discrimination and education cases, in accordance with his statutory duty.

Notes:

The MOJ’s press release announcing the cancellation of the procurement process is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/civil-news-cancellation-of-civil-legal-advice-procurement

PLP’s report on the Mandatory Telephone Gateway - “The Keys to the Gateway” - published on 2 March 2015 is available here: http://www.publiclawproject.org.uk/data/resources/199/Keys-to-the-Gateway-An-Independent-Review-of-the-Mandatory-CLA-Gateway.pdf   The quote from the Government during the passage of LASPO is cited at para 3.19 of that report. 

Written answer to question about amount of face to face advice delivered under the Gateway Is here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-11-07/111874/ 

Latest legal aid statistics here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-july-to-september-2017

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