Accountancy with Law: English Legal Institutions

The Community Legal Service was brought in and set out it's aims to ensure that people could get information and advise about their legal rights and help with enforcing them, fighting against the problems with social exclusion that existed with the old system, legal aid. The Legal Services Commission is the body responsible for maintaining and developing the service, brought in to replace and improve Legal Aid whilst trying to improve the access to justice.

They devised a quality mark to try and regain the public's trust in the legal system; this mark is given to organisations that pass quality checks to ensure that you will be receiving information and services that meet a minimum standard set. The Community Legal Service (CLS) was brought in to replace Legal Aid and make Access to Justice easier and has been moderately successful in doing so. The rule of law states that everybody should be equal before the law, and then this also implies that everybody should have equal access to both the law and justice too, which is what the CLS set out to achieve.

Due to the complexity of the law, it is seen that access to legal rights, duties and information should also be made easier due to the assumption the law makes of us all knowing the law. Access to Justice broadly means 'being able to make full use of legal rights, through adequate legal services, i. e. advice, assistance and representation regardless of mean; also the ability to make full use of the court structure and rights of appeal'. In the 1990's the legal aid budget was increasing getting out of control with even lower numbers of people being eligible for legal aid too.

Hence when New Labour was elected in 1997 they came up with the Access to Justice Act 1999 that was to replace its predecessor, Legal Aid, from April 2000. Under section 4 of this act is required that a Community Legal Service was formed. These Access to Justice Act 1999-implemented proposals are/were contained in White Papers of December 1998 and based upon several consultation papers. The intent of such a paper is two fold (i) effecting a significant increase in access to justice and (ii) obtaining the best value for taxpayers.

This act has replaced and changed many aspects of the law by introducing new bodies such as the Legal Services Commission; replacing the Legal Aid board, and introduced reforms to the appeal system too. The reasons for the CLS as well as the framework are both found in the white papers published alongside the Access to Justice Bill 1998. The old Legal Aid scheme was seen to be flawed and provided inadequate access to quality information with poor co-ordination in services, as well s inability to control and target legal aid and restrictive practices hindering court procedures.

They intended to overcome these problems by introduction of the CLS hoping it would develop a system for assessing needs and priorities and monitoring standards, co-ordinate plans of numerous funders, treat the advise sector and advices by lawyers under one single budget in an attempt to modernise justice. The LCD published how they would develop the institutions including the New System for Civil Cases.

It felt people were finding it very difficult with certain problems to obtain satisfactory advise with many being given initial advise and then sent away, this highlighted the in-effective referral network leading to the new legal service networks should include lawyers, advise workers and volunteers in Citizens Advice Bureaux etc… It was shown in research that with the old legal aid, stats indicated the un-met need for legal services resulted not from inadequate provision but from the lack of access to appropriate adequate help of adequate quality.

The new CLS now targets funds to local needs and brings together both funders and providers in partnerships to meet identified needs. They plan to have sent an information card, telling people how to get good legal advice, to houses nationwide to make people more aware and access easier. The CLS fund was brought in to replace the old civil and family legal aid budget. A massive shift in funding the legal services was brought about through contracting.

Now, due to this contracting, providers of legal help must hold a contract with Legal Services Commission, this is an improvement on the previous franchising system. The funding code sets out the types of legal service the Government is prepared to fund such as legal help, help at court, legal representation etc… and these can only be carried out by lawyers or legal advisers who in turn are fully responsible for giving or retract help in these cases. By applying the code criteria means looking at the chance of success and weighting it up against the cost/benefit.

If the chances of success are higher than 50 per cent then funding would most likely be granted, as would borderline cases if the subject was of great importance to the client, has a wider public interest, involves domestic violence and in a few other circumstances and as a result replaces the merits test in the previous legal aid set-up. The CLS priorities, set by the Lord Chancellor, were set such as dealing with special Children Act proceedings, Social Welfare issues and areas with wider public interest to get preferential treatment.

Personal injury cases, that could before claim legal aid were removed and helped to avoid huge costs and funded by different means. Awareness to this new system is greater with information found on the Internet (http://www. justask. org. uk), which most people in society today have easy access to. It helps raise awareness to the help and advise that is available. It displays the 'quality mark' that is accredited quality providers are allowed to display.

It has been introduced to better the system and create some new confidence in this legal area. It was introduced in April 200 and it used by a wide range of institutions such as advices centres i. e. Citizens Advice Bureaux and 6000+ solicitors offices. The access to justice has been made a lot easier with the introduction of 'just ask'; the CLS website that provides a directory of legal services but although this is seen as an improvement and is a benefit accessing court services online may also be a disadvantage to some groups.

The influence and help this has given is remarkable with numerous businesses now offering free on-line legal advice, such as www. legal-cafico. uk which is not part of the CLS, and this number is steadily increasing. These work along side the information leaflets for specific legal problems published and distributed to some 300+ libraries and also the telephone advice lines that have been developed by different organisations that the new system has introduced.

It has always been thought through the 1990's that reform of the legal aid system was required and something radical had to be done, the costs were monstrous and despite the fact fewer people were receiving legal aid the costs were still rising considerably. It could not cope with the critique that many wealthy defendants were in fact legally aided and it was seen by most to be un-duly. With the old legal aid people were ignorant to the fact that the law could help solve their problems, as well as lawyers' lack of training and unwillingness to deal with poorer or 'lower class' clients.

Legal Aid was designed to deliver legal services through the medium of private practice lawyers so other legal services received a very limited portion of a substantial budget. Old Criminal legal aid was distributed un-evenly, this gave a lot of inconsistency within the magistrate's courts and was heavily scrutinised year after year as well as some lawyer's charging/claiming exorbitant amounts of money for their services.

The reform to remedy these flaws in the legal aid scheme were identified early and options absorbed into modern practice with the appearance of 700+ advice bureaux's and Pro Bono groups appearing. Other ways to enhance the access to justice have been pondered such as encouraging alternative dispute resolution and making the law simpler and in plain English to make it easier to understand as well as producing more informative leaflets to try and help people understand and represent themselves.

The new scheme isn't without it's own flaws though; with bodies still raleighing against the new scheme for various reasons. The truth is no system with ever be perfect and satisfy every group totally but the CLS does improve on the legal aid. Certain groups are still thought to miss out with funding under the new scheme, such groups as people in poor geographical areas as well as those in council property but it has been pointed out that this would not in fact be the case.

On the whole the new scheme, CLS, does give better access to justice while also razing awareness too, we must realise the flaws though, the system is not perfect and some groups maybe some what forgotten and at a disadvantage but on the whole people are more aware of aid available to them, with the help being both more quality and adequate than previous Legal Aid.


Ashworth A. The Criminal Process. Oxford 2nd Ed. 1998 Darbyshire P. Eddey and Darbyshire on The English Legal System. Sweet and Maxwell 7th Ed. 2001