NAO critical of legal aid reforms

The Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) has come under fire over its criminal legal aid reforms in a devastating National Audit Office (“NAO”) report.

The report, into the procurement of criminal legal aid, warns that reforms to criminal legal aid threaten value for money and the provision of an essential public service. It criticises the LSC for relying on “inaccurate and incomplete” data.


“The cost of criminal legal aid provision is driven by a number of factors, including the complexities of the criminal justice system, and the level of crime, both of which are beyond the control of the Commission,” it says.

The report also claims the LSC does not understand the market in which it operates, stating:
“In particular, we consider that the Commission has not marshalled the knowledge of its local managers well enough to develop a good understanding of the market for criminal legal aid, such as the cost structures of different types of firms and their profit margins.”

It concludes that no further reforms should proceed without having been properly piloted using guidance from the Office of Government Commerce. Paul Mendelle QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “This report confirms what [we have] told the government time and again: that cuts to legal aid are unjustified and unprincipled, as legal aid expenditure is controlled and falling in real terms. The drivers of legal aid expenditure are the government’s own policies, not the actions of barristers.”

Carolyn Regan, LSC chief executive, said: “Work is already underway to implement their proposals.”

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