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Victims given greater access to justice through legal aid reform

Date:22 APR 2024
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Innocent people who have suffered miscarriages of justice, personal harm or injury are among those who will benefit from upcoming changes to legal aid means testing coming into effect this year.

Tailored measures will ensure certain compensation types no longer automatically make victims of miscarriage of justice ineligible for legal aid when they seek to hold  authorities to account in the courts.

Currently, compensation payments made through the miscarriage of justice compensation scheme are automatically means-tested as part of the legal aid process. This can result in victims delaying applications for compensation while they pursue justice through the courts.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk said: "Innocent people who have suffered miscarriages of justice, personal harm or injury will benefit from changes to legal aid means testing coming into effect this year. No longer will certain compensation payments make people ineligible for legal aid support and access to justice."

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Means Test Review measures are also being brought forward and will be introduced this year, which extend to victims paid compensation for personal harm or damage or given financial support, for example, those affected by modern slavery and overseas terrorism. These changes will also help victims of domestic abuse during costly and distressing legal proceedings.

Under the plans, any victim who has been forced to leave their home temporarily for their own safety will have the first £100,000 of the equity in their house disregarded from the means assessment.

Backdated welfare benefits and child maintenance payments will also be subject to a disregard, meaning more vulnerable victims will qualify for legal aid.

Under the first phase of the Means Test Review, the government implemented the new non-means-tested areas of legal aid in August and September 2023. However, while detailed work has been undertaken to deliver further reforms, the timeline for implementation will take longer than initially envisaged due to wider competing priorities. The new schemes are now not expected to be fully operational until 2026.

The miscarriage of justice compensation scheme is designed to help individuals restart and rebuild their lives. It is just one route in which an individual can receive compensation for a wrongful conviction, with other options including suing public bodies.

In order to be eligible for a payment under the scheme individuals must:

  • apply within 2 years of being pardoned or having their conviction reversed as a result of a newly discovered fact
  • have had their conviction reversed on the basis of a new fact which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt they did not commit the offence
  • not be responsible for the non-disclosure of the new fact