Anyone familiar with legal aid reform will know that the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has dramatically altered the meaning and nature of legal aid. It has meant, amongst other things, a significant reduction in funding, largely achieved by taking a large number of areas of civil law out of scope, including private family law cases, and almost all cases involving social welfare, housing, medical negligence, immigration, debt, and employment.
The most strenuous critics of LASPO have pointed out that the recent funding cuts restrict people’s access to justice. In answering to these problems, LASPO incorporated a set of exceptions. Those who could provide evidence that they had been victims of domestic violence, for example, were to be given access to legal aid to pursue family law cases. And an Exceptional Case Funding caveat was incorporated in the Act for those who could successfully make a case that their human rights would be breached without publicly-funded legal assistance. Both have been woefully inadequate. Continue reading →
Research led by Prof Morag McDermont of University of Bristol Law School has explored the ways in which advice organisations such as Citizens Advice (CA) have become key actors in legal arenas, particularly for citizens who face the most disadvantage in upholding their rights. Findings from a four year study in partnership with Strathclyde University, highlight the importance of free-to-access advice in enabling people to tackle problems and engage with the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern their lives.
The advice sector, however, is under threat, as a new book Advising in Austerity: Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (edited by Samuel Kirwan and published by Policy Press ) demonstrates. The book, co-written by the research team and advisers in the field, highlights both the possibilities and the challenges for an advice sector that largely relies on volunteers to provide a vital interface between citizens and the everyday problems of debt, health, employment and much more. Despite the skills and enthusiasm of the workforce, many services are caught between rising demand and large-scale funding cuts, as traditional sources of revenue from local authorities and legal aid are dramatically reduced. Across the network, reductions in core funding are forcing agencies to reduce or reconfigure services. In particular, the face-to-face, generalist advice model that provides a holistic assessment of client’s problems is under pressure as services are reduced in favour of telephone or online support.
By Prof Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)*
Applicants for homelessness assistance who are aggrieved by a local authority’s discretionary decision against their interests, can request a review of that decision. These reviews are an incredibly important part of the homelessness decision-making process – a negative decision made by a local authority can leave an applicant with what one Judge has described as the “mark of Cain”. An applicant who does not seek a review cannot appeal a negative decision; if the applicant does appeal their decision, but fails to make all the relevant points, judicial guidance is that such matters cannot be raised on a subsequent appeal. So, both substance and procedure are in play at this crucial stage of internal review.
Since the early 1990s, myself and my colleagues Caroline Hunter and Simon Halliday, (both currently at York Law School) have conducted research in to homelessness internal reviews—on which we published The Appeal of Internal Review. Law, Administrative Justice and the (non-) Emergence of Disputes (Hart 2003) and ‘Adjudicating the implementation of homelessness law: The promise of socio-legal studies’ (2006) 21(3) Housing studies 381. Our research has been both qualitative and quantitative. Continue reading →