LASPO, the worst piece of legislation you’ve probably never heard of

LASPO, unless you have some sort of involvement with the law, probably comes across as some sort of quango that doesn’t have much meaning. However, it is probably the most crucial piece of justice related legislation since the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (which established the Supreme Court).

The Government’s consultation on the effects of LASPO has just concluded and every organisation who has submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice consultation has broadly said the same thing. It has not worked.

What the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) did was bring about a wide range of reforms that reduced the scope for Legal Aid, the ramifications of which are still being felt six years on.

LASPO had four aims:

1. to discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at the public expense
2. to target legal aid to those who need it most
3. to make significant savings to the cost of the scheme
4. to deliver better overall value for money for the taxpayer

However, as analysis by several bodies conducting research into the effects of LASPO shows us, the legislation failed rather spectacularly on all counts. One report by the leading industry charity, LawWorks, details how the post-LASPO period leaves the area of Child Law particularly vulnerable.

The law is reason free from passion…Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. – Aristotle

As Aristotle says, the law is reason free from passion, however, the implementation of LASPO means there has been a significant rise in “litigants in person”, a claimant or respondent representing themselves without the use of legal representation.

This rise begs the question, how can the law be reason free from passion when those advocating on behalf of themselves are, while admirably passionate, often this, understandably clouds their reason.

I found myself having a conversation with a senior judge last week when the issue of children and the law came up. Following this conversation about the lack of advocates in our courts she made the observation that, it is not only shocking that in child related matters there is often no advocate present, it is also irresponsible as no parent can be reasonably expected to advocate emotionlessly when it is their child involved.

Working in child law, you see the effects of LASPO day in, day out and they are not pretty, it was however, a Coalition government bill and while I am generally a great supporter of our work during it, we must be mindful of when our policies were wrong, I hope our current parliamentary cohort campaigns vigorously against the further £300 million cuts that are set to impede access to justice and undermine the rule of law.

So, the question stands, why did the Liberal Democrats not ensure LASPO made adequate provisions for the protection of children and what is our strategy to rectify this?

* Callum Robertson is the Chair of Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform

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8 Comments

  • ONceALibDem 6th Nov '18 - 12:26am

    “So, the question stands, why did the Liberal Democrats not ensure LASPO made adequate provisions for the protection of children and what is our strategy to rectify this?”

    There are two possible answers. They didn’t realise or didn’t care. This happened in Simon Hughes’ watch and quite frankly (if predictably) he was appalling.

    And they were warned and told numerous times.

    If you want a further answer look at your piece the other day – was it the first 3 or 4 comments about lawyers earning too much (a comment that I never see made about what are broadly comparable Doctors salaries).

    Combined with cuts to the criminal justice system its led to a system that is a whisker away from collapse. Cases with litigants in person can take up to 50% longer – what is saved on legal aid is lost on increased court sitting times and early this year defendants in the most serious cases were going unrepresented during a barristers ‘strike’.

    If the LIb Dems weren’t so obsessed with not admitting there were things got hugely wrong in coalition this would be something they would talk about. But they won’t and don’t.

  • Callum Robertson 6th Nov '18 - 10:07am

    I would disagree about Simon, a man who I have always found to be a thoughtful and courteous man. It also did not happen on his watch, LASPO 2012 (as the name suggests), was a piece of legislation that was 2012 based. As Simon didn’t start his job as Minister of State for Civil Liberties until mid December 2012, it seems slightly disingenuous to blame him personally for a bad piece of legislation.

    However, Simon aside, the legislation was bad and I think that the problem was that it was ill thought through. That is not the fault of a particular minister, it would be disingenuous to suggest that it was a particular person rather than a more systematic lack of attention to the importance of legal aid provision as a whole.

    I think it got through because there aren’t many areas you can cut with next to no backlash from the general public, as the comments suggested on my last article, the sympathy for lawyers is somewhere between nothing and non-existent. This leads one to believe that they attacked legal aid because it was an easy cut to make.

    I agree about the need to admit when we messed up and justice and civil liberties were a pretty bad. However, slating our record is not the way back to government and Britain badly needs a liberal voice in government.

  • Callum Robertson 6th Nov '18 - 11:22am

    December 2013 sorry!

  • Peter Hirst 6th Nov '18 - 12:47pm

    I find myself asking why we can’t allow more people to defend themselves to relatively minor charges, this would reduce costs, increase accountability and improve access to justice?

  • Callum Robertson 6th Nov '18 - 1:42pm

    Hi Peter,
    In order to advocate well, one must not only understand the case but also understand the law. A litigant in person may know their case, but the chances of them being able to emotionally detach themselves from the case are significant.
    If someone is up against a CPS solicitor who knows their case and the law, it puts the accused at a distinct disadvantage which I would argue impedes access to justice.

    On the cost aspect, the number of appealable convictions would rise as a result of people not knowing the law. Appeals are a lengthy and expensive process which may eliminate any savings made.

    I’m afraid I fail to see how an increase in wrongful convictions and little (if any) saving would mean that there was higher accountability?

  • OnceALibDem 6th Nov '18 - 8:05pm

    “However, slating our record is not the way back to government and Britain badly needs a liberal voice in government.”

    This article is quite slating of the Lib Dem record in government 🙂

    Simon is inded a thoughtful and courteous man. Neither of which attributes make you a good minister – and its really why he was such a terrible choice to go into a justice ministry where you needed an absolute bastard!

  • @OnceaLibDem
    You don’t need a bastard you need people who don’t care if they are not loved. You need people who believe that doing the right thing is better than doing the wrong thing to be accepted. I’m afraid to many Lib Dem MP’s craved acceptance over doing the right thing.

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