On the 1st of April 2013, major parts of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force. The Act makes sweeping changes to the way legal services are funded. Among the key changes are:
1) The removal of legal aid entirely from areas of the Civil Law, in virtue of Schedule 1 of the Act;
2) The abolition of the Legal Services Commission and its replacement with the Legal Aid Agency
3) The creation of a Legal Aid ‘Director’ who must require those who qualify for legal aid to provide documentary evidence of their financial resources to determine the extent of any contributions due;
4) Setting the maximum income threshold at £12,475 for automatic entitlement to criminal legal aid. Anyone earning over this sum will be subject to an assessment of their disposable income;
5) Where an applicant has an income greater than £12,475 and a disposable income of greater than £3,398, they will be required to make contributions to the cost of their representation.
There remains signifncant confusion about the implementation of the Act. This has not stopped it being called, among other things, an ‘emasculation’ of Legal Aid by Sir Allen Ward J of the Court of Appeal: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/234.html.
We await further details and clarification.