The Law Society has conducted a review of the legal aid changes introduced under LASPO (the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013). These changes affected all family cases (except where legal aid is granted automatically to parents when their child is at risk of being taken into care; or other exceptional cases).
The headline conclusions of this Law Society review are…
- Legal Aid is no longer available for many of those who need it
- Those eligible for legal aid find it hard to access it
- Wide gaps in provision are not being addressed
- LASPO has had a wider and detrimental impact on the state and society.
To be eligible for legal help/legal aid an applicant not only has to be financially eligible and have a good legal case; since April 2013 an applicant has to demonstrate “gateway” criteria by being able to evidence documented domestic or child abuse. In April 2013 we wrote a blog setting out the documentary evidence required under the 2013 regulations – Huge Changes in Public Funding (Legal Aid) from April lst 2013 For Family Cases.
This evidence can be difficult and time consuming to obtain say from the Police or Social Services. We wrote a blog when the Government changed the Regulations to allow documentary evidence to be dated within the last 60 months, not 24 months as previously, for domestic abuse – Changes to Gateway Evidence for Legal Aid.
There are still difficulties in accessing legal help/aid. One of the easier routes to accessing legal advice is through obtaining a letter from a health professional such as a GP. The information that the health professional has to complete is set out in a template letter – https://www.harneywells.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/GP-Domestic-Violence-Letter.pdf.
The template letter has to be followed by the GP to the word – otherwise the Legal Aid Agency will refuse the legal aid application. Once a GP’s letter has been obtained we would ask to check it to make sure it meets the requirements before making an appointment to assess eligibility for legal aid. We cannot be liable for any charges for the GP’s letter.
Legal aid for mediation is not subject to the “gateway” criteria and is therefore easier to obtain as an applicant only has to show that s/he is entering mediation and is financially eligible for legal aid. Once legal aid for mediation is granted the applicant/assisted person is entitled to free legal aid during the currency of the mediation; not only for the mediation itself but also to obtain free legal advice during it’s course (from a solicitor) and to implement any proposals reached in mediation.