Thank you for contacting me about legal aid.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.7 billion a year in legal aid and that a new Legal Support Action Plan has been announced which will ensure resources are available for those who need it most.
Measures in the action plan include a new focus on the individual and early intervention, as well as greater support for those who need solutions to problems before they become entangled in the legal system. The action plan will allow for an additional £3 million to support those representing themselves through the court system.
The Government continues to make a number of changes to legal aid, including undertaking a comprehensive review of the means test, improving and simplifying the exceptional case funding scheme, making face-to-face advice more readily available in a number of civil matters, and undertaking an awareness campaign for legal aid and legal support.
With regard to asylum seekers, as I am sure you are aware for immigration matters legal aid may be available through the Exceptional Case Funding scheme. This legal aid may be available in any case where failure to provide it would breach, or risk breaching, the European Convention on Human Rights or enforceable EU law, subject to the statutory means and merits tests.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, as you may be aware, measures introduced by the Chancellor have provided some much needed support to the legal profession.
Ministers are engaging closely with those in the legal profession and other providers of legal support. It is clear that immediate and longer-term support is needed to ensure the effective running of the justice system now, as we emerge from the current crisis and beyond. It is therefore good news that the Government announced an allocation of £5.4 million in funding to specialist legal advice not for profit organisations, such as Law Centres.
You are correct to say that the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) also has an important role to play and the LAA has taken action to support legal aid provision during the current crisis. I understand the measures taken include ensuring money is available to draw down as interim payments and importantly, halting debt collection.
At the beginning of May, new hardship payment rules were introduced to allow criminal practitioners to claim one month after they were first instructed rather than six months and to reduce the threshold for work done on the case from £5,000 to £450. I have been told that Ministers estimate that up to 20,000 cases under the Crown Court litigators' fee scheme and 27,000 cases under the Crown Court advocacy fee scheme could be eligible under the new provisions.
I will continue to encourage the Government to work closely with legal practitioners to support the sector and ensure the most vulnerable in society have the representation and support they need and deserve.
Thank you again for contacting me. If you would like to stay up to date with the latest information from me, you can sign up to my e-newsletter here.