Lawyers Go In-house At GP Surgeries
The Ministry of Justice is planning to put lawyers to work in doctors’ surgeries in an attempt to deal with legal problems early.
The suggestion has been made as part of an official review of the 2013 cuts which saw legal aid reduced from £2bn to £1.6bn. This included a reduction in help available to people in respect of family, welfare, housing and debt matters.
It is hoped that by putting lawyers alongside doctors, housing and benefit issues can be dealt with quickly, reducing the strain on recipients’ mental health. It is also hoped that problems will be caught early before they escalate in full-blown court cases.
Lucy Frazer, Minister for Justice said: “We will catch people who don’t know they have a legal issue before them come to us. A lot of people who suffer from mental health problems may have debt issues or housing problems.
“They might not have sought advice for those issues and they are not getting help with their housing. We can nip that in the bud to sort out the issue.”
It is also planned to increase the legal aid budget by up to £8m, with up to £5m going towards innovative technologies such as Skype and other platforms which will allow legal advice to be provided via the internet.
There has been a significant increase in the number of litigants in person since the 2013 cuts, and £3m will be used to help them navigate the justice system.
It is also intended to reintroduce face-to-face help for social claimants, rather than the current telephone system.
Ms Frazer said: “We are emphasising the need for new technologies and new ideas to catch people early, before their problems escalate to the courtroom.
“We will expand the scope of legal aid to cover new areas of family law, launch a review of legal aid eligibility thresholds, invest up to £5 million in delivering innovative services and test new methods of support to help people resolve their problems quickly and easily, in the way that best works for them.”
Commenting on the proposals, the Bar Council said that the reform included “little of substance”.
Do you think anything offered in the proposed reforms will make a real difference to those needing legal assistance? Where should the government best direct legal aid funding?