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Review of Legal Aid Delivery

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The first independent review of the workings of the LSC has recently been undertaken by Sir Ian Magee CB - analysing the delivery and governance of legal aid.

The first independent review of the workings of the LSC has recently been undertaken by Sir Ian Magee CB - analysing the delivery and governance of legal aid. This follows concerns from Ministers about the effectiveness of Ministerial accountability for and policy direction of legal aid; and of the transparency of financial management arrangements. Magee has identified appropriate delivery models for legal aid and has explored the possibility of separating the Criminal Defence Service (CDS) from the Community Legal Service (CLS) in order to potentially improve the situation. A much stronger governmental grip on the scheme is advised, with the LSC to potentially lose its status as an independent body and become an executive agency in order to develop a "stronger relationship with the MOJ", "deliver the best value for money", and "tighten financial control over the £2.1 billion budget".

Having analysed the background to these issues and considered various reports and voluminous evidence, Magee has proposed the following options for consideration:

Option 1 - Retain the LSC, but take immediate steps to sharpen governance and accountability.

Option 2 - Bring delivery closer to the MOJ.

Option 3 - Transfer the LSC's responsibilities to HMCS.

Option 4 - Explore possibilities for outsourcing some functions.

Option 5 - The separation of the CLS and CDS.

Option 6 - Devolved or pooled budgets.

Magee identifies, amongst other things, a blurring of the lines with respect to whose responsibility legal aid policy is. The relationship between the LSC and MOJ needs to improve, and an improved framework agreement involving, in clear terms, both the LSC and the MOJ are identified as being crucial to the future efficiency and standard of the provision of legal aid services.

In order to achieve the desired effect Magee proposes that immediate action is required in respect of the relationship between LSC and the MOJ, governance within the LSC, policy focus, financial controls, forecasting, efficiencies and shared services. Various streamlining measures and future reviews of the delivery of changes are recommended in this respect.

In short, Magee concludes that the delivery vehicle for publicly funded legal services that was appropriate ten years ago is not still fit for purpose today. The level of concern is substantial and there is an urgent need for action, particularly in respect of financial controls on expenditure of significant sums of public money. However, much like the recent Jackson review into civil costs, clearly it remains to be seen whether any of the recommendations will be placed in effect, and if so, how effective they become.

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