The Legal Aid Census Report - Published March 2022
On 31 March 2022, Legal Aid Practitioners Group published the 2021 Legal Aid Census report. Researched and written by an independent team of academics, the Census is the first of its kind to look at the backgrounds and lived experiences of all those working on the social justice frontline. There is a widely acknowledged lack of data to inform legal aid policy-making which has been a problem for many years. It is our hope that this data will form the baseline for policy-making around access to justice for years to come and that the Ministry of Justice will build upon this research and conduct further research of its own into the sustainability of the legal aid sector.
Download the Legal Aid Census report here
Download the Executive Summary here
The Census was an example of the entire sector coming together to promote and support the need for further data. Practitioners from every area of publicly-funded law came together to stand up and be counted. Representative groups including Shelter, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, the Criminal Bar Association, The Law Society, the Bar Council, Housing Law Practitioners Association, Legal Action Group and the Black Solicitors Network signed an open letter supporting the need for comprehensive research in this area.
The need to invest
Sir Christopher Bellamy’s Independent Review highlighted the parlous state of the criminal legal aid sector after years of frozen fees and cuts. The Census shows the situation facing civil legal aid providers to be just as precarious and the need for investment to be urgent and immediate if our communities are to recover after the pandemic.
Official statistics show that the number of organisations with legal aid contracts has plummeted in recent years: civil legal aid providers have almost halved since 2012 (down to 1,369 from 2,134 pre-LASPO); with a similar drop in criminal legal aid offices over the same period (down to 1,062 from 1,652). Over 100 civil and criminal legal aid firms have been lost over the course of the pandemic alone. There have been positive initiatives made by the Government to enable more individuals to access justice but without lawyers and organisations undertaking legal aid work, where will they go? Providers are leaving publicly-funded work and fewer juniors are entering the profession to replace them. The Census is the first detailed exploration of why this is the case.
What the Census shows us is that practitioners are highly motivated and committed to their clients and to social justice. However, a lack of investment has caused significant issues across the legal aid sector, including:
• Considerable barriers for those seeking to enter the profession – from limited training opportunities to high levels of student debt that cannot be serviced by low salaries – this is creating a recruitment crisis across the sector
• Difficulties in retaining staff due to low salaries, a lack of career progression and a range of issues impacting adversely on staff wellbeing
• Fixed fees and hourly rates are too low and fail to reflect the complexity of the work, the vulnerabilities of clients, and the time taken to provide the services that clients require, leading practitioners to do unpaid work, work far longer than they are remunerated for and limiting the type of cases that can be taken on
These factors are primary reasons cited by practitioners for leaving legal aid and help to explain the steady exodus of lawyers and organisations from the sector over the last decade
About the Legal Aid Census
LAPG's 2021 Legal Aid Census launched on 12 April, and closed on 11 June. The survey data was analysed by Dr Jacqueline Kinghan, senior lecturer in law and social justice, Glasgow School of Law, Dr Jess Mant and Dr Daniel Newman, senior lecturers in law, Cardiff University, Dr Catrina Denvir, Associate Professor at Monash University, Australia and Sasha Aristotle, post-graduate student at the University of Oxford. The five individual surveys were completed online, and findings have been made public to the sector to shape policy-making in this area.
The Census report provides detailed demographic data about individual respondents and the key characteristics of organisations delivering legal aid. The analysis looks at:
• Those individuals coming into legal aid
• Establishing a career in legal aid
• Working in legal
• The financial viability of legal aid work
• Exiting practice areas – why practitioners and organisations withdraw from delivering categories of legal aid
• Exiting the sector – why practitioners and organisations give up legal aid altogether
• The impact of Covid-19
• Facing the future of legal aid – identifying the challenges ahead and how to meet those challenges
The findings of the Census build upon the work of our Westminster Commission on Legal Aid (see Inquiry into Sustainability), the Justice Select Committee and Sir Christopher Bellamy’s Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review into the sustainability and future of the legal aid sector.