In the, ‘Implementing reforms to civil legal aid’ report, released today, the NAO stated that without taking steps to understand the wider impact of reforms, which reduce the range of issues for which civil funding is available, “implementation of the reforms to civil legal aid cannot be said to have delivered better overall value for money.”
According to the NAO, the MoJ are on track to deliver spending reductions and the report stated spending on civil legal aid is likely to be reduced by “£300 million in the long run”.
However, a failure to fully assess the impact of changes and the assumption that by narrowing the criteria for legal aid funding there would be a reduction in those using the courts, has led to an increase in cases where neither party has legal representation rather than an increase in the use of mediation as the MoJ had anticipated.
As a result, this is likely to cost the HM Courts & Tribunals Service an additional £3 million a year, said the NAO.
“It is all well and good that the Ministry of Justice is meeting its objective of cutting spending on civil legal aid, but it is doing this without knowing what the knock on effects might be for other organisations and people needing advice,” said Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
She continued: “Achieving value for money is not just about cutting costs and I look forward to hearing how the Ministry and Legal Advice Agency will take steps to improve its implementation of the reforms.”
A MoJ spokesperson said: "At the time our reforms began we had one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world at around £2bn per year. Given the financial crisis inherited by this Government there was no choice but to find significant savings. This report confirms we are doing just that.
“This was never going to be an easy process, but we have made the necessary reductions whilst ensuring legal aid remains available where people most need legal help. These changes were debated extensively and approved by Parliament during the passage of the Act."