The Constitutional Affairs committee report seems to have galvanised opposition to the reforms, even if met with a profound silence from the LSC/MoJ. The Access to Justice Alliance plans a week of action for next week, including demonstrations outside Central London County Court and a meeting at Westminster with the Chair of the committee. One aim, very sensibly, is to ensure the matter doesn’t get lost in the DCA to MoJ transition. Whether the Lord Chancellor will do anything in what is likely to be his remaining few weeks is unclear though.
Meanwhile, the LSC attempts some spin on figures showing a 12.5% increase in civil ‘acts of assistance’ in 2006/7 (an 8% increase in face to face and a 51% increase in CLS Direct phone calls).
According to the Gazette, LSC chief executive Carolyn Regan said:
It is no coincidence that the growth in the number of people helped this year falls within the same period in which a new payment system was introduced for our providers, legal aid lawyers and advice agencies [tailored fixed fees replaced hourly charged rates].
Hmm, tailored fixed fees were introduced well before 06/07, of course, but glossing over that, this would be the new payment system that was scrapped in April 07 would it? A funny way to acknowledge its success.
Ms Regan went on to say:
The current legal aid reforms are specifically about building on this to maximise access to legal aid for the future and to continue increasing the numbers of people helped.
Oh please. The stated aim of the reforms has always been to freeze or reduce the legal aid budget. I know the LSC has to keep on saying these things, but it is something of an exercise in futility.