State funded legal services
After World War 2, the labour government introduced a number of measures designed to close down the huge inequalities between the rich and poor.
The type of services introduced by the labour government included, the National Health Service, the first legal aid scheme and the social security system that has developed considerably over the years.
The original legal aid system
The legal aid system was introduced to allow poorer members of society to receive the same level of legal protection as the richer people who have the sources to fund legal help. The legal aid scheme provided legal advice and representation by qualified solicitors, whilst the bill was picked up by the state, or a large proportion was paid by the state.
In the 1990’s, the conservative government sought to cut down on the ever growing financial burden of the legal aid scheme by reducing the eligibility criteria for qualifying for legal help.
In 1999, the labour government passed the Access to Justice Act in order to combat the criticisms the conservative government faced after making it harder to qualify for legal aid.
Legal aid before the Access to Justice Act 1999
Prior to the introduction of the Access to Justice Act 1999, there were six schemes that made up the overall legal aid system, these included:
- The legal advice and assistance scheme, also known as the ‘green paper’ scheme
- Assistance by way of representation (ABWOR)
- Civil legal aid
- Criminal legal aid
- Duty solicitor schemes for police station representation
- Duty solicitor schemes for criminal cases in magistrate court
Each individual scheme had a different eligibility criterion. Legal aid was not always a free service, the civil and criminal legal aid schemes required a contribution from the client if they earned or had savings over a certain amount.
The ‘Green Form’ Scheme
This was established to provide legal assistance an advice concerning all civil and criminal matters with the exception of conveyance and the drafting of wills. The purpose of the service was to draft legal correspondents and any other documents that maybe required, and also advising clients who wish to represent themselves in court on what manner to conduct and what to say. The only service that was not covered by the ‘Green Paper’ scheme was solicitor representation in court.
Assistance by way of representation (ABWOR)
This scheme extended the green paper scheme and included court representation in certain circumstances but was a means tested scheme, meaning only people earning below the criteria would qualify.
Civil and Criminal Legal Aid
The two separate schemes covered the same issues in different cases. They both covered the cost of solicitor and barrister representation in court, legal advice and assistance and bringing the defendant to court. The civil scheme covered civil cases and the criminal scheme covered criminal cases.
Duty solicitor schemes in police stations
This scheme was retained after the Access to Justice Act 1999 was brought into force and is vital following the police Evidence Act 1983, which provides every suspect has a right to legal advice whilst being detained by the police. The scheme was introduced so that there is a duty solicitor available in the police station to represent ant detainee 24 hours a day. Clients are not obliged to use this solicitor but it is available for those who want it. The scheme is completely free to anyone who is questioned in a police station whether they have been arrested or are just helping the police with their enquiries.
Duty solicitor scheme in magistrate courts
This scheme was also kept after the Access to Justice Act was brought into force in 1999, this ensures that there are solicitors in Magistrates court, who work on a rota basis, available to provide guidance to those defendants who have turned up to court without representation.
Problems with the six scheme approach
After 1992, due to means tested schemes, the level of eligible candidates dramatically dropped. This caused great difficulties as the very poor were still eligible for legal help and the rich could afford legal help, and those families that were in between were basically stuck in limbo. They could either financially struggle in trying to afford legal services or basically not enforce their rights.
The legal aid lawyers claimed that the system was completely underfunded and as a result the amount of solicitors willing to take on legal aid work was dropping. The lawyers who did pursue legal aid, provided a lesser service, as they could earn a lot more on privately funded cases and would spend as little time as possible on legal aid to take on as many private cases as possible.
Fraud and neglect
Many people were neglecting the service by falsely providing information that allowed them to be eligible for legal aid when in actual fact they were not eligible at all.
Means tested eligibility for criminal legal aid
In 1997-1998 contributions to the cost of legal aid made by the clients amounted to £6.2 million, where as the actually cost of enforcing the means tested scheme amounted to £5 million.