Meetings

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Take your MP to work day

Mon, 15/07/2019 - 17:00

The #TakeYourMPtoWork campaign is now in full swing with more than 60 MPs from around the country and across the political spectrum taking part. This includes the previousLegal Aid Minister, Paul Maynard MP, who visited his local advice centre on 21 June, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice Lucy Frazer and the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid and Young Legal Aid Lawyers are arranging visits to courts, firms and law centres across England and Wales. MPs will be visiting law centres and legal advice surgeries during June and July to see first-hand why comprehensive early legal advice is so vital. The government has committed to piloting early legal advice in social welfare law . We need them to recognise that social welfare problems are complex and often not confined to one area of law. The government must commit to a comprehensive early legal advice pilot. We need your help - please ask your MP to take part/consider taking part if you are an MP!

If you want to take part please contact Ro Teather at Rohini.teather@lapg.co.uk for more information and to check which MPs have already committed their time.

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APPG on Legal Aid Disrepair Training for MPs and their caseworkers

Mon, 17/06/2019 - 10:30

Monday 17 June 2019 (10.30am-4.30pm, Richmond House) Giles Peaker and Catherine O’Donnell The APPG on Legal Aid hosted training on housing and disrepair law, on 17 June 2019, in collaboration with Legal Action Group and the House of Commons Library. The session was sponsored by Trust for London and put together using frequently asked caseworker queries. The training was led by the brilliant due of Catherine O’Donnell (Barrister, Garden Court Chambers) and Giles Peaker (Partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors and writer of the Nearly Legal blog), who quite literally wrote the book on disrepair (the newly-published sixth edition of “Housing Conditions tenants’ rights”) and hosted by the House of Commons Library. Thanks very much to all participants for the real life examples and lively discussion. London MPs please contact us for your free copies of the book.

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APPG Meeting on the Criminal Legal Aid Review

Wed, 12/06/2019 - 16:45

The APPG on Legal Aid was delighted to host Jelena Lentzos, Head of Criminal Legal Aid Policy and Sustainable Markets at the Ministry of Justice, who heads up the review, Richard Atkins QC, Chair of The Bar Council, Simon Davis, Vice-President of The Law Society, Greg Powell, immediate past President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitor Association and Emma Fenn, a junior criminal barrister from Garden Court Chambers. They all spoke passionately about the changes that the review needed to make to the system in order for it to be fit for purpose,

with Greg Powell citing from his history of the legal aid system and Emma Fenn highlighting the unnecessary fights faced by barristers every day, such as the time spent simply getting through security and court buildings She also highlighted the problems that legal aid barristers face at the end of a case in getting paid by the Legal Aid Agency. Minutes of the meeting can be found here. Please also see Greg Powell’s excellent history of legal aid, which can be found here (on the Secret Barrister’s blog which is also well worth a read if you are interested in these issues).

 

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Joint APPG Meeting with the APPG on Pro Bono and PLE on Public Awareness of Legal Aid

Mon, 10/06/2019 - 16:45

Speakers included Guardian journalist Owen Bowcott, Alex Scott, Head of Legal Support Policy at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Lisa Wintersteiger, Chief Executive at Law for Life, David Greene Deputy Vice-President of The Law Society and LAG’s Interim Director Carol Storer. As legal correspondent for the Guardian, Mr Bowcott has covered legal aid stories for over eight years. He told the meeting that he believes that much of what has happened due to legal aid cuts ‘has been a hidden and silent tragedy for most of the population’, adding his concerns that he has been unable to do more to describe the human impact of the cuts to legal aid. Mr

Bowcott added that ‘readers identify more with people’s stories rather than statistics and trends. The understandable difficulties in reporting individual cases in the family courts are, he believes, part of the problem of trying to find the sorts of case studies that will catch the public’s attention. Mr Bowcott referred to the case of PC Keith Palmer, who was killed in the Westminster Bridge terrorist attacks, as an example of a human story on legal aid that received much publicity. Mr Bowcott highlighted the case in a piece around a demand from campaign groups to extend legal aid to inquests (‘Calls for emergency legal aid for relatives of those who die in custody’, Guardian, 9 October 2018), and expressed his disappointment that the government had not taken the opportunity in the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) to extend legal aid to this. He believes, though, that political opinion is shifting and ‘if there were votes in parliament, [he] suspects there would be a majority in favour of spending more on justice’. He was followed by Alex Scott, who argued that the publicity around the LASPO cuts has led to a public perception that legal aid is no longer available. He expressed concern that in areas of law such as community care and mental health, demand has fallen dramatically despite them still being covered by legal aid. The fall in the take-up of advice within police stations, he believes, is another area of concern and feels there is a ‘lack of awareness amongst young people about their rights in the justice system’. The drop in both legal aid firms and other advice providers over recent years was cited by a number of speakers. Ms Storer asked ‘what’s the point of raising awareness [of legal aid] if there is no one there to take the case?’ She argued that there needs to be a ‘champion for legal aid’ across government to increase awareness and availability of services. Members of the audience spoke of cases involving people on low incomes who were unable to obtain legal aid due to the stringent means test. A review of the means test is one of the action points included in the government’s strategy for legal aid, published in February this year (Legal support: the way ahead, February 2019). Chris Minnoch, CEO of LAPG, asked Mr Scott if he could give details about the government’s plans to consult on the strategy. Mr Scott was unable to do so but replied that the MoJ is aiming to work with providers to demonstrate the value of legal aid.

 

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APPG Meeting - LASPO PIR- Wednesday 27 February 2019 10.00-11.30

Wed, 27/02/2019 - 11:30

The APPG on Legal Aid hosted a panel discussion on newly published LASPO PIR  on Wednesday, 27 February in Committee Room 10. We are delighted to be joined by Lucy Frazer QC MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Richard Burgon, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Committee, Richard Atkins QC Chair of The Bar Council and David Greene, Deputy Vice-President of The Law Society.

The meeting was an opportunity to discuss the PIR and for many in the legal aid sector to have their say. Chaired by Karen Buck MP, the event was a huge success, with a full attendance and contributions from parliamentarians including Lord Low, Andy Slaughter MP and Alex Chalk MP, as well as detailed questions and comments from some of the many representative bodies and interested individuals in the audience.

Lucy Frazer MP addressed concerns raised by the APPG over what was meant by the term “legal support”, clarifying that it refers to the full range of legal services available, “including where individuals with legal problems turn to first, such as friends, family members, the internet, Citizens Advice – anyone who gives advice”. Lucy Frazer went on to explain that this was part of a wider effort to move to a more “holistic legal system”. She explained that the government wants to explore if legal advice is always the best system of support. The Minister also stressed that although only £8m is explicitly laid out in the Action Plan, this is not the extent of the proposals. Adding that the government would like more people to access advice which is in scope for legal aid and that this would require further resources.

The Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon stated that he believed the review was “too little, too late”, and contained no credible plan to tackle the problems created by LASPO. He described the government’s £8m in the Action Plan as a “drop in the ocean” in comparison with how much has been cut from legal aid since LASPO. Mr Burgon also took the opportunity to announce that a Labour government would introduce non-means-tested legal aid for inquests into state-related deaths. 2019 is the 70th Anniversary of legal aid, and Richard Burgon added that this should be used as a chance to make a positive case for legal aid, to counter press criticism, and to recognise access to justice as a fundamental right.

There was consensus on the panel that the MOJ’s recognition of the importance of early legal advice is a welcome change, and David Greene highlighted that the Law Society has been campaigning for its reintroduction for years. The issue of the rise of litigants in person and cases going to court unnecessarily was also raised. Bob Neill MP particularly expressed concerns about this development, highlighting that the government has not yet picked up on how much of this is simply passing costs on to other parts of the welfare state.

To read the minutes, please click below.

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Drinks Reception - 28 January 2019 - 'We all stand together'

Mon, 04/02/2019 - 11:15

On Monday 28 January 2019 we were joined by fifty MPs and caseworkers and 13 organisations including the Ministry of Justice, ILPA, Advocate, LawWorks, the House of Commons Library, Advocate, Law for Life, YLAL and Disability Law Service. Lucy Frazer QC MP, Minister for Legal Aid, spoke at the event and confirmed that publication of the LASPO PIR will be ‘soon’. Alex Chalk MP (Conservatives, Cheltenham) and Gloria De Piero MP (Labour, Ashfield, Shadow Justice Team) also spoke, both emphasising the importance of legal aid and access to justice and of the need for the government to maintain a properly funded, accessible legal aid scheme.

The event was hosted in Portcullis House and aimed to (i) launch a training programme designed in collaboration with the House of Commons Library and Learning and Development Teams for MPs and their caseworkers which is to be rolled out in the coming months and (ii) to publicise resources and websites useful to caseworkers. It was intended as a celebration of all of the work that MPs and their caseworkers do together with members of the legal aid sector.  

All in all, the event was a resounding success and a huge thank you to all of the organisations and MPs who took part or sent representatives along to the evening.

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APPG Meeting – Justice Week – 'Access to Justice- What Next?' -Tuesday, 30 October 2018 (10-11.30 Committee room 14)

Tue, 13/11/2018 - 12:15

The APPG on Legal Aid together with The Law Society hosted a panel discussion on the topic “Access to Justice – What Next?” on Tuesday, 30 October 2018. We had a stellar line-up with Lucy Frazer QC MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice kicking off proceedings and Richard Burgon, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, Andrew Walker QC, Chair of The Bar Council and Simon Davis, Vice-President of The Law Society all contributing their thoughts to the debate. Speakers from the floor included Lord Jeremy Beecham, Lord Colin Low and Andy Slaughter MP.

Minister Frazer started her speech by paying tribute to all who work within the Justice System. From Barristers, to City Solicitors to those in legal aid and not for profit organisations. She confirmed that the review will be produced by the end of the year and added that a third round of consultative group meetings will take place shortly to discuss 'further legal support'. Ms Frazer went on to add that the review team has met with organisations throughout the sector as well as Lord Bach and Lord Low to discuss the reports produced by their Commissions.

Ms Frazer highlighted the advantages that technology can bring to improve people's access to courts at the same time as changing outdated back-office systems.

She defended the government against criticisms over its level of legal aid support, telling the meeting that it is important to remember the government spends £1.6bn a year on legal aid in addition to other sources of funding. Additional support includes £6.5m to support litigants in person. Online forms have been made easier, she added. The error rate for divorce applicants has fallen from 40% to 0.5% since the process was digitised. With social security applications, Ms Frazer said the government is hoping to bring in a system where judges will be able to liaise with applicants directly and hopefully result in fewer adjourned hearings.

Richard Burgon told the meeting that the government should conclude from its review, amongst other things, that funding should be restored for early legal advice, stressing that cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy.

Andrew Walker, warned the Group of his fears that the judiciary, the advice sector and the profession in general was being hollowed-out and de-skilled. He added that £6.5m in support to litigants in person is just tinkering around the edges and that none of the Leaders of the political parties were making it a priority. The Bach Commission is still “informing” us and not directly “influencing” policy and until this changes, the future of legal aid will remain uncertain.

Simon Davis, replying to Karen Buck’s question as to why it was so hard for government to recognise the knock-on costs of the loss of early legal advice, said that the government looks upon the legal profession with cynical eyes. Successive governments have thought that the legal profession is just out there to make money and that this attitude has underpinned so much of policy.

 

You can read the minutes from the meeting here.

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APPG on Legal Aid Meeting: AGM and Joint Committee on Human Rights report "Enforcing Human Rights" Tuesday, 11 September 2018 10.30-12.00 (Macmillan Room)

Tue, 11/09/2018 - 10:30

The APPG was delighted to host it’s Annual General Meeting on 11 September 2018 and to welcome back Karen Buck MP as its Chair. We were also pleased to elect Lord Willy Bach, Lord Jeremy Beecham,  Yvonne Fovargue, Dominic Grieve and Andy Slaughter to the posts of Vice-Chair. The AGM was followed by a discussion of the recently published tenth report by the Joint Commission on Human Rights, “Enforcing Human Rights” led by that Committee’s Chair, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP. Other Speakers included Jeremy Lefroy MP, Fiona Rutherford from the LASPO PIR team who updated the meeting on the progress of the review and Libby McVeigh and Steve Lodge from the Equalities Commission on Human Rights who reported on the Commission’s Inquiry and LASPO submission.

The event focused on human rights, especially the impact of growing advice deserts and wide imbalances in provision of civil legal aid. Ms Harman highlighted the serious problems people have in accessing justice to enforce their human rights and declared that ‘human rights are not worth the paper they are written on if they are not enforceable’. Dwindling access to legal aid is making enforcing human rights far more difficult. She told the meeting that in 1979, 77 per cent of the population were eligible for legal aid, while now this figure is around only 25 per cent, and the areas of law for which people can get advice on have also been cut. ‘Access to legal advice is about equality,’ Ms Harman emphasised, and the ‘law is supposed to be there for everyone’, but so often people who don’t have funds can’t access it effectively.

To read the minutes in full, please see below.

 
 

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APPG on Legal Aid: Joint Committee on Human Rights report 10 July 2018 10.30-12.00 (Committee Room 8) **CANCELLED**

Tue, 10/07/2018 - 10:30

It is with regret that the APPG on Legal Aid meeting at 10.30 on 10 July 2018 has been cancelled. We have been notified that the room originally allocated is no longer available and have been unable to find an alternative room either in parliament or nearby. Our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience caused but we will have to postpone discussion of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report with the Rt Hon Harriet Harman and Jeremy Lefroy MP to a later date.

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APPG on Legal Aid Meeting: Post-LASPO Litigation - Where are we now?

Tue, 17/04/2018 - 16:30

The  last meeting of the APPG on Legal Aid was held on Tuesday, 17 April 2018 from 16.30-17.30 in Committee room 4, Lords Corridor. The topic of the meeting will be a discussion of the changes that have been brought about in legal aid as a result of litigation by various groups and what changes are yet to be made.

We were joined by Matthew Shelley (Deputy Director, Legal Support and Court Fees Policy at the Ministry of Justice) who updated the meeting about his team's work to date on the LASPO Post-Implementation Review and invited all attendees to send materials and to be part of the process.

The Group was also delighted to welcome the following speakers to address the meeting:

  • Olive Craig, Solicitor, Rights of Women on domestic violence evidence requirements (see here
  • Simon Creighton, Founding Partner, Bhatt Murphy on legal aid for prisoners (see here
  • Polly Brendon from Public Law Project on Exceptional Case Funding (see here)
  • A speaker from the Criminal Bar Association


The meeting was chaired by Karen Buck MP.

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