Legal aid needs urgent reform

How can the Ministry of Justice make criminal and civil legal aid sustainable?


Published 4 October 2021

Published 4 October 2021

The justice system in England and Wales cannot function effectively without a sustainable legal aid profession.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) made fundamental changes to the legal aid system. Our inquiry, The Future of Legal Aid, has evaluated how the system is working and identified the key challenges to people who do legal aid work (providers) and people who benefit from legal aid (clients).

Based on the evidence we heard, we are concerned that legal aid is not sustainable and that the fairness of the justice system is at risk as a result. To fix this, we believe a series of reforms are necessary.

This is why we think that, and what we think should be done.

Five themes for reform

Our report makes a number of recommendations to the Government on how to reform criminal and civil legal aid. Read the recommendations in full.

Our recommendations are all informed by the below five themes, which come from the principle of access to justice. We think they should characterise the Government's approach to reforming legal aid.

1.The legal aid system should be designed around the needs of those who use it.

2.The regulation of the legal aid system should prioritise the quality of the work provided and should ensure that the public are supplied with the right legal work at the right time.

3.The legal aid framework should enable the Government to act strategically and target support in areas where it is needed most and where it can improve the effectiveness of the courts and the justice system.

4.Legal aid should be regarded as a public service, which benefits all of society.

5.Legal aid is critical to the fairness of the justice system, enabling those without sufficient financial means to participate on equal terms with those that can afford representation.


What happens next?


Image: CP Hoffman,, CC BY SA-2.0

Image: CP Hoffman,, CC BY SA-2.0

The Government must now respond to our report

Our report, The Future of Legal Aid, was published on 27 July 2021 and the Government has two months to respond to our recommendations.

Detailed information from our inquiry can be found on our website.

If you’re interested in our work, you can find out more on the House of Commons Justice Committee website. You can also follow our work on Twitter.

The Justice Committee is a cross-party committee of MPs that examines the policies and spending of the Ministry of Justice (and associated public bodies). This includes courts, legal aid, prisons, probation and the rule of law. It also advises on sentencing guidelines.

Justice Committee membership as of August 2021 - link goes to page on website