Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press Notice/ 01 of Session 2003-04             9 December 2003


CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE LAUNCHES
LEGAL AID INQUIRY


The Constitutional Affairs Committee has announced details of its forthcoming inquiry into Legal Aid, issuing a call for written evidence to all interested parties.

The inquiry will examine the problem of variable access to legal aid and the issue of "advice deserts" - areas where no legal aid advice can be obtained from experts. Members will also consider ways to tackle these problems, looking at the viability of funding and incentives for legal aid practitioners and alternative methods of dispute resolution. The Committee will also consider the practicability of a salaried service for the provision of civil legal advice. 

Other key questions for the inquiry are:

• How can the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Legal Services Commission provide incentives for legal aid practitioners to continue legally aided work?

• Is the perception that legal practitioners are moving out of legally aided work correct?

• Can the requirement for legal aid be reduced by the resolution of some legal issues on a more informal basis, through the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, long distance services or otherwise?

• What would be the comparative funding costs of a salaried service?

Committee Chairman the Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said:

"The Legal Aid budget amounted to £1.976 billion in 2002-3, which is over half of the budget of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We need to be sure that taxpayers are getting value for money and that access to legal aid services is available when and where it is needed. This inquiry will go the heart of these issues and we look forward to receiving evidence from all those concerned about the provision of legal aid."  

The inquiry is expected to start in Mid-February.

The full terms of reference for the inquiry are as follows:

• What evidence is there of the emergence of 'advice deserts'?

• What action is being taken to ensure that there is access to legally aided advice in all legal specialisms?

• How can the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Legal Services Commission provide incentives for legal aid practitioners to continue legally aided work?

• Is the perception that legal practitioners are moving out of legally aided work correct?

• Can the requirement for legal aid be reduced by the resolution of some legal issues on a more informal basis, through the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, long distance services or otherwise?

• Would a salaried service or the provision of law centres be a viable solution to lack of provision, either in areas without sufficient practitioners or elsewhere?

• What would be the comparative funding costs of a salaried service?

Submissions relating to the terms of reference above are invited from relevant interested parties. These should be sent to the Clerk of the Committee at the address above by Friday 30 January.  Preferably an electronic version in MS Word or Rich Text format should also be submitted, either electronically to [email protected] or on a disk and this should be accompanied by a covering e-mail stating clearly who the submission is from, together with relevant contact details. A letter should be sent validating the e-mail.  Attention is drawn to the guidance on the submission of evidence which can be found at www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/witguide.htm.

Please note that the Committee's terms of reference specifically preclude it from consideration of individual cases.