'Lawyers are to be provided in GP surgeries to offer legal advice to patients as part of a Government overhaul of the £1.6bn a year legal aid system.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said the lawyers could advise patients who “might not know they have a legal issue” over their finances or housing.
She said the aim was to catch vulnerable people early to prevent a problem escalating into a lengthy court battle that could cost them and the taxpayer thousands of pounds.
The move will be backed by a £5m fund to develop innovative ways of providing legal support including using of Skype or video links for lawyers’ advice sessions and apps that could turn lengthy written arguments into legal submissions.
It is part of a year-long review of earlier reforms to the legal aid system which slashed the previous £2bn a year budget by £400m in a bid to provide better value for money but led to widespread criticism that thousands were denied access to justice.
Ms Frazer also announced an expansion of the scope of legal aid to include children currently excluded including separated migrant children and those subject to guardianship orders.
She also unveiled a review of the current thresholds for legal aid entitlement and a possible widening of eligibility, which she said could see “significant sums” being invested in the system. The income limit for legal aid is currently £733 a month.
An extra £3m over two years is also to be invested to provide advice and support for so-called “litigants in person”, people who represent themselves in court. Their numbers have mushroomed in face of the £400m cuts.
Ms Frazer said the concept of lawyers in GPs’ surgeries was a response to the review which found “overwhelming” support for early intervention to prevent potentially expensive legal actions needing government aid. Two pilots have already been launched in Bristol and Newham in east London.'
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