What is the role of the Legal Aid Agency in providing legal aid to those unable to afford legal services?

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The purpose of legal aid is to provide legal representation to those who are unable to afford it on their own. With this in mind, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) was created with the objective of helping UK citizens who are unable to fund their own legal requirements. The LSC was established in 2000 and later disbanded in 2013, being replaced by what is now known as the ‘Legal Aid Agency’ (LAA).

The primary aim of the Legal Aid Agency is to ensure that everyone in the UK is able to access legal services provided by barristers, solicitors and non-profit organisations. This is whether it be guidance or representation for civil and criminal cases. Legal costs are often prohibitively expensive, and many people find it difficult (if not impossible) to find legal representation. Legal aid exists to ensure fair and equal provision of justice for those who are generally at risk of being excluded from the benefits of the legal system.

The other function of the Legal Aid Agency is to publish evidence about their decisions and their reasons behind them. The decisions revolve around funding, or not funding, a particular case. It is the LAA’s responsibility to provide evidence and justifications of their decisions either way.

Responsibilities

The LAA is responsible for distributing funds and making decisions regarding the CLS (Community Legal Services) for civil matters and the CDS (Criminal Defence Service) for criminal law matters. Solicitors who are interested in offering their services to the LAA may do so under a predetermined quality control scheme. Firms that offer legal aid for civil matters, for example, must display the CLS logo. Solicitors and barristers who have a contract with the LAA offer their time and expertise in specialised areas of the law.

However, for an applicant to be considered eligible for legal aid by the LAA, they have to be first tested and verified with regard to their financial circumstances. The first step involves the passing of a decision in favour or against legal aid dispensation. The applicant’s income, assets and capital are taken into consideration, along with whether or not the service will be able to provide adequate benefit to the applicant.

Applications for legal aid must be made for a defined legal service like legal representation or assistance, etc. If the applicant requires further assistance or funding at a later stage, they have to make a fresh application for a higher level of funding. These forms are provided by the LAA. UK citizens are also allowed to make emergency applications for legal aid under certain special conditions, such as circumstances related to domestic abuse, for example.

Civil Legal Advice

One of the most important functions of the Legal Aid Agency is to provide funding to Civil Legal Advice (CLA). UK citizens may be eligible for confidential, reliable and free legal advice in civil matters.

The CLA may be able to offer assistance and guidance in the following matters:

  • Debt, especially if their home is at risk
  • If they happen to be at risk of being evicted or becoming homeless
  • In cases of domestic abuse
  • Family issues involving children, for example, if their child is being taken into care
  • Special educational needs such as autism, disability and so on
  • Cases involving discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, caste, creed, race and colour, etc.

Individuals may call the CLA in case of difficulties or may opt to have a CLA advisor call back.

Before being allotted legal aid, the applicant may be asked to produce the following documentation to either the LAA or the CLA:

  • Proof of pay in the form of payslips (if they happen to be working)
  • Bank statements
  • Documentary proof of investments and savings
  • Details regarding any other benefits that they receive such as government benefits, an annuity or bequests, etc.
  • A professional valuation of their property and any mortgage papers

Civil or non-criminal legal aid may also be provided in relation to the following matters:

  • Obtaining a court injunction against a violent or abusive spouse or family member
  • High court proceedings that involve the welfare of their child; they can appeal High Court decisions
  • If their child is being taken away from them by force or is being taken away from the country (abduction)
  • Individuals who have been served with summons under the Hague Convention
  • Cases involving anti-social behaviour

Summary

The Legal Aid Agency was established to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of justice to all people, providing legal aid to UK citizens who are unable to afford conventional legal services. Before approving funding to an applicant, the LAA will examine the nature of the problem and the financial circumstances of the applicant.

Most legal aid applicants may be asked to repay some portion of the legal costs incurred. However this may be waived off in some cases where the applicant is found to be earning below certain levels.

How Legal Utopia Can Help

When using the Legal Utopia ‘Legal Checker’ service with an individual account, if your legal issue would potentially be eligible for legal aid (subject to financial eligibility), the Legal Checker will automatically identify this for you, and provide a direct portal to the government checker for financial eligibility. You will then have access to the diagnosis, legal guidance, services, portals, resources, and legal aid services free of charge. Legal Utopia’s mission is to make law more affordable and accessible, and that starts with making sure that the most vulnerable and the people who need help most can access it.

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