The MoJ has published its response to the Transforming Legal Aid consultation launched in April 2013, confirming which aspects of those reform proposals will now go ahead. A further consultation on some aspects of the scheme, which will run from 5 September to 18 October 2013, has also been launched.
It is estimated that the initial reforms to the legal aid scheme launched in 2010 will save approximately £320 million in 2014/15. The Government estimates that the reforms set out in its response to the consultation will save a further £220 million per annum in 2018/19.
Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps confirms that the Government will press ahead with reductions in fees paid in some civil cases and those to experts. Fees payable to most experts in civil, family and criminal proceedings will be reduced by 20% as proposed in the consultation paper, although the rates payable to experts in those areas where increases have been made recently in the light of market supply issues will be retained. Those specific areas are listed in the response paper.
The proposed reduction in the fixed representation fee paid to solicitors in family cases covered by the Care Proceedings Graduated Fee Scheme will also go ahead, with both the fixed representation fee and the hourly rates that apply when a case reaches the escape threshold to be reduced by 10%. It intended that the revised rates will be implemented, subject to Parliamentary approval, by way of secondary legislation in April 2014. A further proposal will be published this autumn as to how to adapt the current family fees scheme to reflect the creation of the single family court in April 2014.
The Government also intends to implement the reforms relating to imposing a financial eligibility threshold in the Crown Court and removing legal aid for borderline cases as part of the civil merits test. These reforms will be introduced, subject to parliamentary approval, by way of secondary legislation in early 2014 and late 2013 respectively.
There will be a further short consultation on the issue of funding for pre-action work in judicial review cases in light of the responses received to this proposal in the April consultation.
In light of the responses to the consultation on the issues of competitive tendering in the criminal legal aid market and the proposed reforms to criminal advocacy fees, a modified proposal is set out in the Government's response paper and further views are sought in relation to this. Responses should be sent by 18 October 2013 to Annette Cowell at the Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ, tel: 020 3334 3555, email: LegalAidReformMoJ@justice.gsi.gov.uk.