1.1 This consultation sets out the Government’s proposals for further reform of the legal aid system in England and Wales.
1.2 As set out in the Introduction, against a backdrop of continuing financial pressure on public finances, we need to continue to bear down on public spending.
1.3 We estimate that the proposals set out in this consultation would, if implemented, deliver savings of £220 million per year by 2018/19.1
1.4 Views are invited on the questions and when expressing views on those questions, respondents are advised to have the overall fiscal context firmly in mind.
Proposals for reform
1.5 Eligibility, Scope and Merits sets out proposals for improving public confidence in the legal aid scheme. It includes reforms to prison law to ensure that legal aid is not available for matters that do not justify the use of public funds such as treatment issues; the introduction of a household disposable income threshold above which defendants would no longer receive criminal legal aid; a residence test for civil legal aid claimants; reforms to reduce the use of legal aid to fund weak judicial reviews; and amendments to the civil merits test to prevent the funding of any cases with less than a 50% chance of success.
1.6 Introducing Competition in the Criminal Legal Aid Market sets out proposals for introducing price competition into the criminal legal aid market, initially for the full range of litigation services (except Very High Cost Cases (Crime) VHCCs) and magistrates’ court representation only. It details the main features and elements of the proposed model.
1.7 Chapter 5 (Reforming Fees in Criminal Legal Aid) sets out proposals to reduce the cost of criminal legal aid fees for Crown Court advocacy and VHCCs (both litigation and advocacy), which it is not proposed to include in competition. These include, first a proposal to restructure the current Advocacy Graduated Fees Scheme to encourage earlier resolution and more efficient working through a harmonisation of guilty plea, cracked trial and basic trial fee rates to the cracked trial rate, and a reduction in and tapering of daily trial attendance rates from day 3. Second, there is a proposal to reduce all VHCC rates by 30%. Third, there is a proposal to tighten the rules governing the decision to appoint multiple counsel in a case, changes to litigator contracts to require greater support to counsel from the litigation team, and the introduction of a more robust and consistent system of decision-making.
1.8 Chapter 6 (Reforming Fees in Civil Legal Aid) sets out proposals to reduce solicitor representation fees in family public law cases by 10%, to align the fees for barristers and other advocates in non-family cases, and to remove the 35% uplift in provider legal aid fees in immigration and asylum appeals.
1.9 Chapter 7 (Expert Fees in Civil, Family and Criminal Proceedings) sets out a proposal to reduce fees paid to experts in civil, family and criminal cases by 20%.
1.10 As set out in Chapter 8 (Equality Impact), the Government has assessed the potential impacts of the proposed reforms in accordance with our obligations under the Equality Act 2010. These assessments of the potential impact are at Annex K.
1.11 The Government would welcome responses to the questions set out in this consultation. Those who would prefer to submit their responses via e-mail may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who would prefer to submit views in hard copy should send their responses to Annette Cowell, Legal Aid Reform, Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ.
1.12 The deadline for responses is midnight on Tuesday 4 June 2013. The Government will respond to the consultation in autumn 2013.
We want to engage as widely as possible during the consultation period and have organised a series of consultation events throughout May to give you the opportunity to:
seek clarification on the proposals
provide initial views/comments on the proposals
help prepare you to submit a response to consultation
You can sign up now to attend one of these consultation events.
 This estimate does not take account of savings arising from fees not being uprated by inflation over the four years to 2018/19. It should be noted that the figures in the accompanying Impact Assessments are long run steady state savings which take account of the continued impact of the policy proposals.
Please be aware that on the evening of 10 April 2013 the following corrections were made to the previously published version of the consultation document:
Page 5: footnote 1's wording was revised to read: "This estimate does not take account of savings arising from fees not being uprated by inflation over the four years to 2018/19. It should be noted that the figures in the accompanying Impact Assessments are long run steady state savings which take account of the continued impact of the policy proposals." (New words in bold).
Page 115: the word "two" in the first bullet point was replaced with the word "one".
Page 118: footnote 124, which was incorrect, was removed.
Page 119: the word "trials" was replaced with the word "cases" in the heading to the table (corrected heading now reads: “Crown Court litigation cases with 500 pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) or less”)
A small number of typographic errors were corrected.
In addition, please note that the version published on 10 April 2013 should be read taking into account the clarifications and/or corrections listed in the 'Amendments to the Transforming Legal Aid Consultation Document'
Justice reform and consultation
On 5 February the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice made the following statement in Parliament:
“Since becoming Justice Secretary, I have embarked on a programme of delivering more for less and of boosting public confidence in the justice system. We are consulting on transforming rehabilitation and will shortly be considering reforms to youth justice.
In the past, my Department has routinely undertaken 12-week written consultations in some areas, including legal aid. I want to be clear that although the Government still want to hear the views of stakeholders and the public on many matters, they should no longer expect a 12-week consultation, even where that has been the practice in the past. Instead, in line with the new Cabinet Office principles, we will take a fresh look across all areas at whether, how and for how long we should consult, according to what is appropriate and proportionate in each case.”
The statement makes it clear that in future, the Ministry of Justice will determine whether to consult on policy changes, and if so with whom and for how long, according to what is appropriate and proportionate in all the circumstances.
This will include taking into account the Compact between the government and civil society organisations. We will also consider using more informal ways of engaging, recognising that traditional written consultation is not always the best way of getting the right evidence.
This statement applies to all areas of the department’s work including, but not limited to, legal aid (for example, fee changes) and the other areas referred to in the Lord Chancellor’s statement.