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Legal Aid Scheme and Trials: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL3641, tabled on 28 April 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the (1) financial impact of COVID-19 on legal aid lawyers, and (2) the long-term impact of court trials that need to be restarted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answered on

13 May 2020

We recognise the vital public service provided by legal aid practitioners. We know that the Covid-19 outbreak has created a range of challenges for the legal profession. We are doing all we can to overcome these and ensure that the justice system continues to operate effectively, maintaining access to justice for those who need it.

In doing this, we are working closely with legal practitioners and other providers of legal support across the justice system, to understand their concerns and the immediate and longer-term support needs to keep the justice system running during the crisis and recovery beyond. Key representative bodies have continued to engage with Ministers and senior officials throughout this challenging period, and officials have sought out the views of the legal services sector on the impact of the crisis on their businesses.

The measures introduced by HMT have provided some support to the profession. We are working with practitioner representative bodies to understand any gaps in the provision for particular parts of the profession.

The Legal Aid Agency has taken steps designed to help support legal aid provision during this period including making money available in interim payments and halting debt collection.

For criminal practitioners we have provided greater access to hardship payments to allow practitioners to claim 1 month after they were first instructed instead of 6 months and to lower the threshold for work done on the case from £5,000 to £450. We estimate up to 20,000 cases under the LGFS (Crown Court litigators’ fee scheme) and 27,000 cases under the AGFS (Crown Court advocacy fee scheme) could be eligible under the new provisions, increasing the amount of funding brought forward (when combined with the interim payments already available) from £45m to £140m.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is working hard in partnership with the judiciary to keep our justice system functioning during this unprecedented public health emergency. Our priorities are to maintain access to justice and to protect the safety of all who work in the courts and tribunals.

The courts are now in a position, with approval from Public Health England and Public Health Wales, to take some first steps towards the resumption of jury trials. A limited number of trials will take place, conducted safely and observing social distancing rules, at courts including the Old Bailey in London and at Cardiff Crown Court. These will also help us to understand how it might be possible to conduct trials more widely as the situation with coronavirus develops.