Proxy Models of Legal Need: Can They Contribute to Equity of Access to Justice?

Abstract

Prioritisation of cases and resources as a means of rationing the limited legal aid budget has recently become a feature of access to justice in the UK. This article explores the utility of devising proxy models of ‘legal need’ as a means of enabling the rational and equitable planning of legal services in these circumstances. Different conceptual and methodological approaches are considered, highlighting preliminary development work in Scotland. The likelihood of developing ‘legal needs’ measures that promote equity of access to appropriate legal services is discussed in the light of problems with defining ‘legal need’ and the diversity of services available for the resolution of legal problems. Legal need and access to justice A fundamental change in the distribution of legal aid in the UK has stimulated a debate about equity of access to justice in these new circumstances (Moorhead and Pleasence, 2003). In England, as a consequence of the Access to Justice Act (1999), capped budgets for civil legal aid were introduced, operating by a system of contracts offered to local providers. This means that there is no longer any entitlement to funding in civil cases; entitlement has been replaced with a scheme for prioritising cases and resources (rationing) as a way of meeting the needs of the general public within a limited budget. Alongside this, a complex system of controls has been set in place to manage and ration access to legal services. The Legal Services Commission has responsibility for the civil arm of the legal aid scheme and is obliged by statute to promote Community Legal Service Partnerships (CLSPs), which now have the exclusive right to determine entry, or continued presence in the market for legal aid services. They seek to work through an inclusive but voluntary framework and at a specifically local level (Moorhead, 2001). In Scotland the need for better planning and co-ordination of all forms of publicly funded legal assistance on civil matters, including legal aid services, has been recognised, although capped budgets have not been

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Baker2006ProxyMO, title={Proxy Models of Legal Need: Can They Contribute to Equity of Access to Justice?}, author={Deborah Baker and Stephen Barrow}, year={2006} }