A recently released report by the National Audit Office has concluded that although the Ministry of Justice is on track to meet its main objective of significantly reducing spending on civil legal, it is less clear whether it has succeeded in meeting the objectives of reducing unnecessary litigation and targeting legal aid at those who need it most.
The report is critical of the way that the reforms were implemented and concludes that the Ministry of Justice did not give enough consideration at an early stage to the potential impact of the changes on the wider system. It is highlighted that it had been anticipated that by removing funding for the majority of private family matters there would be a reduction in cases going to court and an increase in mediation referrals of 9,000 per year; however the number of mediation assessments reduced by 17,246 in 2013-14.
The Ministry is criticised for failing to have a robust understanding of the impact on the market that reduced fees would have and for undertaking limited monitoring. A further problem identified is the potential cost to the wider public sector if people suffer adverse consequences to their health and wellbeing by no longer having access to legal aid.
The NAO conclude that the Ministry did not have a good understanding of how people would respond to the changes and did not estimate the scale of the wider costs of the reforms. A key recommendation of the report is that the Ministry take steps to evaluate in more detail the impact of the reforms.
A copy of the report is available on the NAO website here.