In the Government paper "Doing Law Differently," Lord Falconer reinforces the idea that there is a need to lower the expenditure and become more efficient within the Legal Aid System. He states that "The legal aid system is a pillar of our justice system, but the current levels of expenditure are unsustainable. "14 This further proves that there is a need for reform within the legal aid system, this statement stresses the urgency of the situation and that something must be done to lower the amount of money which is often wasted in certain areas of the system.
Lord Falconer goes on to explain the rise in costs which have dramatically risen from i?? 1. 5 billion in 1997 to i?? 2. 1 billion in 2006. With this rise in cost it would be expected that there would also be a rise in the amount of cases dealt with, but unfortunately this is not the case, and the number of cases dealt with has remained around the same.
This is something which must be changed as money is being wasted because of a "payment system which encourages long and expensive trials. "15 This demonstrates that the legal aid system at present lacks the initiative to provide the legal representatives, who are used to provide legal aid, with any kind of incentive to do their jobs more efficiently. The current system does not reward pre-preparation and so this is often a reason why the trials often last for months.
The idea of reform in this area of the legal aid system would be very wise as it is a drain on the budget to be paying for services lasting for months which could be completed in days if the correct measures were taken, such as incentives for pre-planning and making the competition to receive contracts for providing legal aid services more fierce by only offering them to companies that are going to be efficient and provide value for money for the taxpayer, thus having more money to provide a fairer legal aid system which can help the people who need it the most wherever they may be geographically.
Lord Falconer's paper does offer the idea of "reshaping legal services to ensure they provide value for money and are more responsive to people's needs and rebalancing the funding of legal aid to bring about greater focus on vulnerable people rather than a very small number of high cost cases. " However Stephen Hockman, in the article "Doing Law Differently," criticises Lord Falconer and draws attention to the papers deficiencies. He claims that it "fails to appreciate individual's rights and does not address the issue of resources in sufficient detail.
"16 This criticism demonstrates that although reform is being attempted its implementation is not sufficient to change the system enough to help those who really need legal aid. "Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead," by Lord Falconer and Vera Baird, suggests a wealth of reforms to be imposed upon the legal aid system for its benefit and improvement. Within this document they state that "the Government and the Legal services commission are going to deliver a new system of legal aid that will be sustainable in the long term.
"17 This reform seems to be important as it is focusing on the need to economise, and keep the spending of the legal aid system to an amount that can be continued over a long period of time instead of continuing to increase at the fast pace at which it is currently heading, which would inevitably end in disaster for the system as a whole. They go on to explain the "proposed fixed and graduated fee schemes that will apply to nearly all areas of legal aid, along with other measures to encourage efficiency and innovation, prior to the introduction of best value competition.
"18 These reforms too seem sensible and possible, and I believe that their implementation could benefit the legal aid system greatly when they are put into effect correctly. The idea of encouraging efficiency and innovation is highly important as this will save money in the long run, with companies who provide legal services becoming more efficient trials will be quicker and more work will be completed in less time, which is the ultimate goal of this particular reform. However a negative aspect to these reforms is that they may disadvantage many legal firms and put professional's livelihoods at risk.
A news article by Matthew French states that "a campaign has been launched by law professionals urging the Government to reconsider plans to reform the legal aid system amid fears it will lead to job losses. "19 This demonstrates that sometimes benefiting one social group can disadvantage another and these aspects must be considered when deciding on reforms, as if the legal practitioners are not treated well then they are unlikely to provide an efficient and productive legal aid service.
In conclusion I do believe that there is a substantial amount of reform that is required in the legal aid system. Although, "the legal aid system is a pillar of our justice system," as stated by Lord Falconer, it is behind the times and has not changed and evolved as the economy, and the legal system, have done so around it. As its expenditure in the criminal justice system has risen to obscene amounts it has not been able to provide the support needed for the civil and family trials which often involve the people who are the most vulnerable in society.
The new initiatives brought about in "Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead," which was published in November 2006, are highly important as they aim to tackle these problems of expenditure, budgeting and efficiency, and protect those people who are at most risk of social exclusion. However rapid change is a bad idea as many legal businesses, especially smaller ones, will find it hard to change immediately with the system and so may suffer as a result of the reforms.
These people must also be considered as the legal aid system cannot function efficiently without people who are willing to co-operate with the new reforms, and so the reforms must be made appealing to this group too. Legal Aid must change with the times and be brought into the 21st century, when this has happened the legal system as a whole will benefit and the justice system will become fairer and thus gain more trust from the public.