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Legal aid is a vital public service. It helps to ensure a fair and effective criminal justice system. It also promotes access to justice and last year alone helped one million people address their family, housing, debt, welfare and other problems. In many cases, it helps prevent social exclusion. However, spending on legal aid has risen rapidly.

The Fundamental Legal Aid Review was a far-reaching study which looked at the long-term future of the system, focussing on how best to provide publicly-funded legal services to those who need them.

The Review addressed how legal aid can:

It also concentrated on ensuring the longer-term sustainability of a system - which now costs £2 billion per year - as well as looking to ensure the best value for this money. It also looked to identify underlying processes and procedures, which increase the work of lawyers, but might do little to advance the fairness or effectiveness of the justice system.

Legal aid is only available if the charge against the defendant is so serious that they may lose their liberty or their livelihood if convicted. This Review does not affect the majority of defendants in the magistrates' court, such as motorists, who do not qualify for legal aid for most offences.

The Review was managed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, supported by the Strategy Unit. The team worked closely with the Legal Services Commission. The Review involved other Government departments, including the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, and a range of external stakeholders, including the judiciary and the legal professions.

> Written ministerial statement 5 July 2005[Department of Constitutional Affairs website]

Further Information

For further information about the project, please contact the Strategy Unit.