Parliament's Public Accounts Committee today gave the Ministry of Justice a complete kicking over its approach to the legal aid reforms in LASPO (see below).
It is a depressing picture where cuts were the only thing that mattered - including whether in the long run they cost the public purse far more. The Ministry of Justice, no doubt at the insistence of politicians who just wanted to deliver savings to the Treasury, didn't bother to underpin its changes with evidence.
Perhaps the most depressing finding, showing just how bankrupt the thinking behind it all was, is that it didn't occur to the MoJ that if family legal aid was slashed, this would lead to fewer people seeking the advice of solicitors, which in turn would lead to fewer referrals to mediation, because solicitors were the main source of such referrals.
Incredibly, the MoJ thought the number of family mediations would go up by 74%. In the year after LASPO, they actually went down 38%.
And the MoJ response? "We are pleased the committee has acknowledged our reforms have been successful in making the significant savings we had no choice but to find given the financial crisis this government inherited." Such breathtaking arrogance pretty much sums up how the MoJ operates nowadays.
I wish I could say that this was a surprising failure by the MoJ, but it has all but given up on proper evidence-based policy making. Courts fees increases, changes to CFAs etc - based variously on anecdotal evidence, superficial research and gut instinct.
But sadly, because it's legal policy, few outside of the legal profession really seem to care.
The Ministry still does not understand what its reforms mean for people. It has little understanding of why people go to court and how and why people access legal aid in the first place, and only commissioned research into these issues in 2014 – more than a year after its reforms were implemented. There are signs that the complexity of the justice system may be preventing people who are no longer eligible for civil legal aid from securing effective access to justice.