144. The system of civil legal aid faces some serious
problems. The evidence established clearly that the laudable aim
of ensuring that costs were properly audited has resulted in a
wasteful and self-defeating system of cost compliance auditing
which bears little relation to quality or even shows much accuracy
in the assessment of costs. The LSC has done well in using the
Quality Mark system to remove solicitors from legal aid work who
were unfit to give advice, but this achievement risks being spoilt
by an ill considered and over rigid application of the cost compliance
145. There is a significant danger that the system
will not survive if urgent efforts are not made to enable solicitors'
firms to recruit young entrants into legal aid work. There is
widespread evidence of serious recruitment and retention problems.
The initiatives made by the LSC to provide some support to students
who wish to go into legal aid work (and stay there) are to be
welcomed. We fear that this may be insufficient to cope with the
immense problems surrounding student debt.
146. Although we believe that there is scope for
improved management of solicitors firms, we note that the system
relies on the dedication and goodwill of solicitors, who are committed
to the service which they provide. They need more recognition
for the work that they do, which is underpaid in comparison to
other areas of the law. The firms which do legal aid work subsidise
the system in a way which is not sufficiently quantified by Government
or acknowledged. Every change to the system of administration
of legal aid involves firms in considerable expense on business
systems to cope with the changes. Much of this is taken for granted.
147. We note with interest the evidence relating
to alternative methods of provision. Any new system must provide
the same or better quality, access and value for money as the
present system of delivery through private practice firms.
148. There are human rights obligations in relation
to civil cases. There is significant evidence of unmet need for
legal services by many in societyoften among those who
are most vulnerable. Too much has been squeezed out of the CLS
budget as a result of the twin pressures of criminal and asylum
work. Civil Legal Aid has become the Cinderella of the Government's
services to address social exclusion and poverty. The highly desirable
extension of provision and services has been possible only at
the expense of cutting back on eligibility, scope and remuneration.
This process has now gone too far.