Ministry of Justice
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Changes to civil legal aid crack down on fraud and refocus resources

Legal Aid Minister Willy Bach has yesterday announced the government will tighten the rules for civil legal aid so that fraudsters are uncovered at an early stage, and funding is better targeted.

The changes, which were consulted on from July to October last year in the Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases consultation, will tighten rules so legal aid is not wasted on funding low value damages claims against public bodies, or on hopeless judicial reviews.

The changes will also mean that before legal aid is granted in a divorce or child contact dispute, the other side will be given an opportunity to provide evidence if the applicant is financially ineligible for legal aid. Currently the onus is on people to contact the Legal Services Commission (LSC) if they have evidence. In future the LSC will contact opponents and check applicants' eligibility before granting legal aid

The changes will also restrict access to domestic civil legal aid for non-residents, and restructure the LSC's committee dealing with cases of wider public interest.

The introduction of these new conditions is expected to deliver savings to the legal aid budget of approximately £6 million per year. However the changes will also deliver more significant savings in terms of preventing unmeritorious claims from being made.

Legal Aid Minister Lord Bach said: 

'Civil legal aid provides critical support for the most vulnerable people on a range of important matters, from debt, housing, and employment advice to representation in important family and public law proceedings.

'The government devotes very significant resources to civil legal aid. It is therefore important that we regularly look to ensure we're getting the best value for money and even more importantly that the people who need help most are able to get it.

We were impressed with the representations received during the consultation and have made significant revisions to many of our original proposals. The changes we have announced will ensure that fraudulent applications are detected before public funds are expended on them, and that legal aid is better targeted.'

The new measures will be introduced in April 2010. Read the consultation response document.

Notes to editors

  1. In ancillary relief (financial provision on divorce) and private law children cases, the other side will be notified of the legal aid application and given 14 days to provide any evidence that the applicant is financially ineligible for funding. This requirement will not be applied to domestic violence cases, or other emergency applications.
  2. Non-residents will no longer have routine access to civil legal aid, other than for immigration, asylum, child abduction, forced marriage and emergency housing cases.
  3. Funding will still be available to non-residents, on an exceptional basis, for human rights challenges against the UK government, and applications will be decided, independently from government, by the Legal Services Commission.
  4. Public interest considerations allow cases to be granted funding even where the benefits to the individual litigant alone would not justify the likely costs, because other people will benefit from the outcome of the proceedings. Our changes will expand the role of the committee that considers these cases, and strengthen the rules so that cases will only receive public funding on this basis if there are realistic prospects of the outcome of the case providing benefits to others.
  5. The changes expected to save £6m p.a. (gross/cash).

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