The potential impact of legal aid cuts (Prof Richard Vogler, Dr Lucy Welsh, Dr Liz McDonnell and Dr Susann Wiedlitzka – Sussex University)
This three year project at the CCRC involved five stages.
(1) A statistical analysis of CCRC data from 1997-2017
(2) A detailed review of 280 individual CCRC case files from 2012-2014
(3) A questionnaire survey of 16 legal practitioner respondents,
(4) Semi-structured interviews with 45 legal practitioner respondents
(5) Two focus group sessions with CCRC staff.
The final 4 stages were funded by the ESRC, and the first was funded by the Sussex RDF.
The conclusions, in summary, were:
(1) There was a very high level of acceptance by both applicants and their representatives of the Easy Read application form introduced in 2012.
(2) There was considerable evidence to suggest that both the regime and the administration of tests and audits by the LAA was undermining lawyers’ efforts to conduct CCRC casework efficiently and in a financially viable way.
(3) Levels of representation of CCRC applicants, which have previously been recorded at 34%, declined to an average of 23% in the period 2012-2014, and to as low as 10% towards the end of that period.
(4) Declines in the representation of CCRC applicants appear to be associated with the reduction of legal aid fees in 2014, with serious impacts on all participants in the system.
(5) Legal practitioners explained they have been increasingly driven to undertake unremunerated work or to abandon practice in this area altogether. The resulting market contraction for legal services in this specialism appears to have led practitioners to be more selective about the type of case they take on, and reportedly has resulted in greater reliance on unskilled staff or volume processing by a diminishing number of legal professionals.
(6) The CCRC itself has been faced with poorly expressed, underprepared and often misguided applications, submitted by unrepresented individuals, who have had no advice on the viability of their application. This appears to have increased the already substantial workload of the CCRC.
(7) The results suggest an association between legal representation and success of applications, particularly at the initial review stage.
(8) There was agreement from all research participants (including various levels of legal representative and CCRC staff) that well-informed and professional representation of CCRC applicants is valuable.
(9) There was scope for the improvement of communications and understanding between CCRC staff and legal professionals.
(10) Reductions in legal aid funding appear to have had an impact on the commissioning of expert evidence by legal practitioners, to some extent shifting this burden on to the CCRC itself.
Link to final report: The CCRC Legal Aid and Legal Representatives – Sussex University March 2021
Link to the CCRC’s response: CCRC Response to Sussex University – June 2021