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Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL5250, tabled on 3 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to support barristers' chambers doing publicly funded work.

Answered on

18 June 2020

We recognise the vital public service provided by legal aid practitioners and the essential work barristers do in helping to ensure we maintain access to justice for those who need it.

We know that the Covid-19 outbreak has created a range of challenges for the legal aid profession. We are doing all we can to address these challenges and ensure that the justice system continues to operate effectively.

Key representative bodies have continued to engage with Ministers and senior officials throughout this challenging period, and officials have sought out the views of legal aid practitioners on the impact of the crisis on their businesses. This is not limited to criminal legal aid matters - we are also engaging with the profession on support for civil legal aid practitioners and third sector providers.

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.

In order to focus on the most pressing issues for practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic we agreed with provider representative bodies to temporarily pause our work on the Criminal Legal Aid Review in order to focus on short term sustainability issues. This led to us pausing the criminal legal aid review consultation on the accelerated areas which was due to close on the 27th March 2020.

The closing of the consultation and the Governments official published response is one of the first steps as we return our attention to the wider review which has a focus on long term sustainability of the criminal legal aid market.

Lastly, where possible we would also encourage practitioners to take up the available HM Treasury schemes; the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back Loan Scheme.