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Figures for this latest quarter continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with courts and other parts of the justice system running a reduced service.
|Overall Crown Court expenditure decreased this quarter; down by 45% compared with the same period of the previous year.||⬊||This is driven by falling jury trial completions in the Crown Court, with trial expenditure in the graduated fee schemes falling by more than half over the same period.|
|Representation orders granted in magistrates’ court increased by 3% while Crown Court increased by 6%.||⬈||The early workload indicators for court volume show work arriving in the courts and increasing the eventual fee payments.|
|The volume of completed work in the magistrates’ court increased by 7%.||⬈||Magistrates’ court expenditure fell 2% over the same period with new fixed fee work and duty sessions driving the workload increase.|
|Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting volumes were 14% higher than in the same quarter of 2019.||⬈||Mediation starts were 11% higher and outcomes were 16% higher.|
|Applications for civil representation supported by domestic violence or child abuse evidence decreased by 12%.||⬊||The total volume of these granted decreased by 15% compared to the same period of 2019.|
|893 applications for Exceptional Case Funding were received in the last quarter.||⬊||This is a 7% decrease from the same quarter last year.|
This edition comprises the first release of official statistics for the three-month period from October to December 2020 and the latest statement of all figures for previous periods. In addition, section 6 presents provisional figures for October 2020 based on management information.
For more detailed commentary, and statistics on providers of legal aid, Central Funds and legal aid in the higher courts, please refer to the annual publication
For technical detail, please refer to the User guide to legal aid statistics.
This publication shows that completed workload and the associated expenditure has continued to fall this quarter, due to COVID-19, across most legal aid schemes.
Criminal legal aid expenditure decreased compared to the same quarter last year in schemes that support the court system, including the magistrates’ and Crown Court. The incoming workload for representation at the courts has almost returned to levels seen in the previous year. Complex trial cases ongoing at the Crown Court are not completing at the same rate as pre-covid due to social distancing measures, and reduced capacity in the courts is impacting upon closed claim expenditure.
Civil legal aid volumes and expenditure show a mixed picture compared to the same quarter last year, but there are increases across some schemes overall since last quarter. Civil representation applications remain slightly lower than last year, and legal help starts and claims remain much lower than last year. Applications for civil representation domestic violence cases have seen the biggest increase since last year, however this is not reflected in the DVCA gateway which continues to fall in applications and grants. Mediation workload has increased and now exceeds levels seen previously, and there has been some activity in HPCDS.
Section 6 presents provisional figures for January 2021 based on management information. The January 2021 figures show a slight reversal in the recovery from the impact of COVID-19 in terms of work starting in criminal legal aid, with court representation applications down 8% in the Crown Courts and staying level in magistrates’ courts compared to the average of the previous quarter. Within civil legal aid, both legal help starts and civil representation applications fell in January 2021 compared to the average of the previous quarter.
It was expected that criminal and civil legal aid volumes would return to, and even temporarily exceed, historic trend levels and more recent falls could be due to this return to normal levels or impact from further lockdowns.
Things you need to know
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To understand trends in legal aid as a whole, it is best to begin by looking at annual expenditure figures and then look at trends in both workload and expenditure for each category of legal aid. Summarising activity across the legal aid system meaningfully within a single number is difficult because of the diversity of services included. Expenditure on legal aid is measured differently for different purposes. The three most often-used measures, shown in Figure 1, are:
Closed-case expenditure is the measure used for expenditure figures throughout these legal aid statistics. It represents the total value of payments made to legal aid providers in relation to pieces of work that are completed in the period. This basis is comparable to volumes of completed work to which it relates, and to the same fine level of detail. This does not include income received or expenditure in relation to debt write-offs.
RDEL (Resource Departmental Expenditure Limits) nominal is the main budgeting measure used by government to control current spending, both to set budgets for future years and report on how much has been spent. It represents the value of work carried out in the period better than the closed-case measure but cannot be broken down to such a fine level of detail. This measure does incorporate income and expenditure in relation to debt. Nominal here means not adjusted for inflation.
RDEL real is the RDEL measure adjusted for inflation to make the value of spending in previous years directly comparable with the specified year.
These measures show a large reduction in legal aid expenditure from around 2010-11, mostly due to changes to the scope of civil legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act from 2013-14, reductions in criminal legal aid workloads and reductions in the fees payable to legal aid providers.
Figure 1: Overall annual legal aid expenditure, by closed-case and RDEL nominal and real terms measures (£m), 2005-06 to 2019-20
Criminal legal aid
Overall Crown Court expenditure decreased this quarter; down by 45% in October to December 2020 compared with the same period of the previous year.
This is driven by a falling volume in the category of completed trials within the Crown Court due to the ongoing pandemic, with completed trial expenditure in the graduated fee schemes falling by more than half over the same period.
Criminal legal aid can be categorised into Crime Lower and Crime Higher. Crime Lower includes police station advice, magistrates’ court and prison law. Crime Higher covers work in the Crown and Higher Courts.
Figure 2: Crime overview, closed case volumes and expenditure for October to December 2020, and comparison with October to December 2019
Although Crown Court work comprises a relatively small portion of criminal legal aid in terms of volume, it usually accounts for around two-thirds of all criminal legal aid expenditure. However, due to the impact on court hearings and the lack of courtroom availability for jury trials this has fallen to around a half of all criminal legal aid expenditure this quarter.
Advice relating to the police station makes up the largest portion of workload, but a much smaller proportion of expenditure.
Figure 3a: Workload in criminal legal aid, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Figure 3b: Expenditure in criminal legal aid, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Note: Advice and assistance on appeals and civil work associated with crime are excluded from these figures.
Police station advice
This category made up two thirds of the overall Crime Lower workload between October and December 2020 but less than half of the expenditure. The workload in this period has decreased by 5% compared to the previous year, with expenditure decreasing by 9% (£2.9m). The decrease in police station advice workload since 2013-14 is also seen in arrest statistics for England and Wales , which has had a similar decline historically.
The majority of the police station advice workload (85% in October and December 2020) consists of suspects receiving legal help with a solicitor in attendance at the police station, with the rest mainly consisting of legal advice given over the telephone.
Applications and grants for representation in the criminal courts
While figures should be interpreted with caution as they may be revised in subsequent quarters as cases move into the Crown court, the number of orders granted for legally-aided representation in the magistrates’ court increased by 3% this quarter when compared to the same quarter of the previous year. This reverses the impact of COVID-19 on receipts earlier in the year although the downward trend of the last few years, which has been largely driven by summary only cases, may be hidden by prosecutions now taking place. The overall number of receipts in the magistrates’ courts[footnote 2] including those not involving legal aid showed a larger decrease (29% down) over the same period with the largest fall (52%) in summary non-motoring offences. The proportion of these applications that are granted remains stable at around 95%.
Orders granted for legally-aided representation in the Crown Court also increased, but to a greater degree, by 6% this quarter compared to last year. Reduced hearings at the lower court in the first quarter are now being actioned, potentially causing an increase in the workload for the Crown Court, with representation slightly above levels previously seen. There was also a 7% increase in all Crown Court receipts[footnote 3] during the same period. Within the legal aid figure, orders relating to either-way offences increased by 12%, while those relating to indictable offences increased by 5%. The proportion of Crown Court applications granted remains at almost 100%.
Magistrates’ court completed work
Legally-aided representation in the magistrates’ courts comprised almost one-third of the workload and almost 45% of expenditure in Crime Lower between October and December 2020. The volume of completed work in the magistrates’ courts increased by 7% this quarter when compared to the same period of the previous year. Expenditure conversely decreased by 2%, reversing the usual trend seen within this predominantly fixed fee claim area.
There are two reasons for this fall in expenditure in comparison to the increase seen in volumes and both are due to more work being carried out in less complex fixed fee areas. The first is the introduction via the accelerated Criminal legal aid reforms since October 2020 covering payment for work on sending cases to the Crown Court – with this new category shown in the tables accompanying this bulletin – with almost 4,300 claims costing £950k completed this category is expected to increase. Secondly, there was a 13% rise in the number of sessions being held via the court duty solicitor scheme. This allows a person that has already been charged with an offence to consult with and be represented by a solicitor at the magistrates’ court on their first appearance if they do not have, or have not contacted, their own solicitor. The expenditure on these has risen by 23% suggesting that these session lengths have also increased.
Crown Court completed work
Completed work volumes within the litigator (solicitor) fee scheme decreased by 12% in October to December 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year, driven mainly by a 51% decrease in completed cases where the defendant has plead not guilty and will require a courtroom that allows a full jury.
In the advocate fee scheme, the number of completed claims decreased by 19% compared to the same period last year, largely due to a 48% fall in the number of trials completed and the rising backlog of those requiring a jury trial.
Figure 4a: Workload in the Crown Court, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
In the litigator fee scheme, expenditure decreased by 48% in October to December 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year. In the advocate fee scheme, the value of payments decreased by 38% compared to the same period of the previous year.
These falls are driven by large decreases in the volume and subsequent expenditure on trials. The litigator fee scheme fell by 51% in volume and 62% in expenditure, and the advocate fee scheme fell similarly, with a drop of 48% in volume and 51% in expenditure.
Figures for expenditure on work completed in the Crown Court should be interpreted with caution as they may be revised in subsequent quarters as claims are assessed further on appeal and further payments added to the value of some completed claims.
Figure 4b: Expenditure in the Crown Court, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
The large falls in completed expenditure are a consequence of the large fall in the number of jury trials completing in the Crown Court, as all expenditure across the case will be in the final main bill. Figure 4c below, looking at the litigator fee scheme in isolation but equally applicable to both schemes, shows the impact of falling trials on expenditure – these types of cases are more likely to be impacted as they need more courtroom space and distancing measures and are likely to include witnesses and members of the public in the jury pool.
Trial completed expenditure has been more adversely affected than guilty pleas and cracked trials, where a defendant changes their plea before the trial, with litigator fee expenditure much lower. Previously it was more than £60m and is now less than half of this. A lack of available resources has led to fewer jury trials with a subsequent increase in trials awaiting completion of 57%[footnote 4].
4c: Litigator Fee Scheme Crown Court workload and expenditure by claim type, April to June 2017 to July to September 2020
The Very High-Cost Case (VHCC) scheme covers those Crown Court cases which, if the case were to proceed to trial, would likely last more than 60 days. These cases can span several years and, while they may involve small numbers of defendants, the associated expenditure is high in comparison.
There was one defendant represented in the VHCC contracts that concluded in the October to December 2020 quarter. Expenditure on this work over the duration of the contracts within this claim, on the closed-case basis, was £0.4m. While workload comprises a tiny proportion of legal aid in the Crown Court overall, the VHCC scheme represents around 1% of the cost this quarter, higher than recently and partly down to reduced overall graduated fee expenditure, although down from over 15% ten years ago.
Workload this quarter decreased by 16% compared with the same period in the previous year, driven by advocacy at prison disciplinary hearings which decreased by 86% compared to last year (see figure 5). This category previously made up over one-third of prison law workload, but this has fallen to less than 10% during this period. This large fall contrasts with increases in workload in both other categories in prison law.
Expenditure on prison law fell by 5% following the overall trend of the quarter (see Figure 5b). This was in part driven by the large fall in prison disciplinary hearings. However, this drop was masked by increases in workload for advocacy at parole boards. These was a 20% increase in workload and 6% increase in expenditure compared to the previous year.
Figure 5a: Prison Law completed workload, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Prison Law completed expenditure, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
*New categories not shown: ‘advocacy assistance at sentence reviews’ and ‘advocacy assistance at Parole Board reconsideration hearings’
Civil legal aid
Overall civil legal aid expenditure decreased this quarter; down by 4% compared to the same period in 2019.
This is largely driven by a decrease in legal help expenditure which fell by almost 25% in the period. Mediation has increased since last year and now exceeds pre-COVID-19 levels, and this quarter has seen the first new HPCDS starts since April 2020.
Civil legal aid can be categorised by area of law into family and non-family. The category of family legal aid covers all work on both private and public family law and includes work associated with the Children Act, domestic abuse, financial provision and family mediation. Non-family legal aid encompasses all work related to immigration, mental health, housing and other non-family law.
Figure 6: Civil overview, closed case volumes and expenditure for October to December 2020, and comparison with October to December 2019
Although workload for family and non-family law cases are similar, non-family comprises a relatively small proportion of civil legal aid expenditure. Public family legal aid makes up two thirds of family legal aid work and over three quarters of expenditure.
Legal help and controlled legal representation
In the last quarter, there was a 14% decrease in legal help new matter starts than in the same period of 2019. The volume of completed claims decreased by 20% and expenditure decreased by 24% in October to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 (figure 7). The implementation of the LASPO Act in April 2013 resulted in large reductions in legal help workload, with the overall trend falling to less than one-third of pre-LASPO levels.
Figure 7a: Completed workload in legal help and controlled legal representation, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Figure 7b: Completed workload expenditure in legal help and controlled legal representation, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Family legal help
In October to December 2020, family legal help starts decreased by 13% compared to the same quarter in the previous year. Completed claims also decreased by 19% and expenditure decreased by 15%. There was a steep decline immediately following the implementation of LASPO Act in April 2013, with a more gradual decline over the last 2 to 3 years.
Family mediation involves an independent and impartial professionally accredited mediator discussing problems with a divorcing or separating couple in an attempt to reach agreement without using the courts. A Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) is an initial meeting between one or both parties and a mediator to see if family mediation could be used to resolve the issue. MIAMs increased by 14% in the last quarter compared to the previous year and currently stand at just over a third of pre-LASPO levels. Family mediation starts increased by 11% and total outcomes increased by 16%, of which 62% were successful agreements, and are now sitting at almost two thirds of pre-LASPO levels.
Figure 8: Family mediation assessments, starts and agreements, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Non-family legal help and controlled legal representation
Legal help and controlled legal representation make up over 95% of both immigration and mental health legal aid cases.
The LASPO Act 2013 made changes to the scope of legal aid for immigration law, but some areas remained in scope. Workload that remains in the immigration category consists largely of asylum-related work. Having fallen by 40% over the 5 years to 2013-14, new matter starts in immigration decreased by 17% in October to December 2020 compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Completed claims in immigration decreased by 26% in the last quarter compared to the previous year and expenditure decreased by 32%.
Within mental health, most funding is spent on providing assistance to sectioned clients appealing the terms of their detention before a mental health tribunal. Mental health new matter starts decreased by 4% when comparing the latest quarter to the previous year. Completed claims decreased by 7% and expenditure decreased by 14% over the same period.
Around 80% of legal aid housing work volume is made up of legal help. The volume of legally-aided housing work halved between July to September 2012 and July to September 2013. The trend then fluctuated for around 18 months but since 2014 it has been falling. In October to December 2020 there was a 33% decrease in housing work starts compared to the same quarter the previous year. There were also decreases in completed claims (36%) and decreases in expenditure (19%).
The number of civil representation certificates granted in the last quarter decreased by 3% compared to the same period of the previous year. The number of certificates completed decreased by 14%, and the associated expenditure was unchanged over the same period. Civil representation workloads fell following the implementation of the LASPO Act in April 2013 but by a smaller proportion than legal help and controlled legal representation.
Figure 9a: Completed workload in civil representation, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Figure 9b: Completed workload expenditure in civil representation, April to June 2011 to October to December 2020
Non-Family Civil Representation
Non-family certificates completed make up around 10% of the total civil representation workload and 10% of the expenditure. There are only a small number of immigration and mental health cases in civil representation as most work in these areas consists of controlled legal representation. The majority of certificates completed in this category are for housing work. In the latest period, completed certificates decreased by 47% compared to the same period of the previous year.
Family civil representation
Certificates granted for family work increased by 2% in October to December 2020 compared to the previous year. Certificates completed decreased by 13% and associated expenditure decreased by 1% compared to the same quarter the previous year.
While civil representation for public family law remains available, the LASPO Act removed legal aid for most private family law including issues such as contact or divorce. However, legal aid remains available for such cases where there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse. In October to December 2020, applications for civil representation supported by evidence of domestic violence or child abuse decreased by 12% compared to the same period of the previous year. The total number of these granted decreased by 15% over the same period. The proportion of applications granted remained steady at around 70% from the inception of this type of application until the end of 2015, before increasing to over 80%. The provisional figure for the latest quarter is 85%.
Figure 10: Applications received and certificates granted via the domestic violence and child abuse gateway, April to June 2013 to October to December 2020
Of all civil representation applications granted, around 3,000 a year relate to judicial review; 734 in the last quarter. The number granted in October to December 2020 decreased by 10% compared with the same quarter in 2019. Over half of judicial reviews were for public law and just under a quarter were for immigration cases. Judicial review data can be found in the accompanying detailed civil csv file.
Exceptional Case Funding (ECF)
The Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme was introduced as part of LASPO. An ECF application for civil legal services is made where a case falls outside the scope of civil legal aid but the client or conducting solicitor believes failure to provide funding would be a breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.
There were 893 applications for ECF received from October to December 2020. This is a 7% decrease from the same quarter last year. 821 (92%) of these were new applications.
Of the 893 ECF applications received between October and December 2020, 95% (848) had been determined by the LAA as of 01 March 2021. 75% (634) of these were granted, 14% (116) were refused and 9% (76) rejected (see figure 11).
Figure 11: Volume of ECF applications received, April to June 2014 to October to December 2020
Among the ECF applications received between October and December 2020, immigration (69%), inquest (9%), and family (12%) remained the most requested categories of law.
Figure 12: Volume of ECF determinations by outcome, April to June 2015 to October to December 2020
Early assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on legal aid activity up to end of January 2021
The majority of information in this National Statistics release covers activity up to the end of December 2020. To address growing public interest and provide the most timely information available on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on legal aid, management information up to the end of January 2021 has been analysed. Monthly figures from January 2020 to January 2021 are published in the accompanying tables (Table 12_1).
This section presents headline activity figures for criminal and civil legal aid. No information has been included on expenditure as these figures are subject to greater revision. The methodology is the same as that included in the main National Statistics release. However, quality assurance of the underlying management information has not been undertaken to the same level of checks needed to meet National Statistics standards. Figures should therefore be treated as preliminary and indicative.
This analysis should be treated as provisional information providing a high-level estimate of legal aid volumes in January 2021. As application and starts volumes begin to return to expected levels, some or all of this section may be removed in future releases. Ongoing monitoring of volumes will continue, and management information will be published where beneficial to users.
Mediation data is no longer included in this section due to data quality issues arising from early extraction of data; large discrepancies have been found between management information and subsequent published quarterly data. Mediation volumes are now exceeding levels seen prior to COVID-19 and latest management information is therefore of limited value.
Criminal legal aid
Police station attendance
- Provisional figures[footnote 5] show that there has been a 15% decrease in police station attendance in January 2021 (34,700) compared to the monthly average between October and December 2020 (40,900 per month)
Applications received for representation in Crown Courts
- Provisional figures show that there has been an 8% decrease in applications received for representation in the Crown Courts in January 2021 (7,300) compared to the monthly average between October and December 2020 (8,000 per month)
Applications received for representation in magistrates’ courts
- Provisional figures show that there has been no change in applications received for representation in the magistrates’ courts in January 2021 (16,500) compared to the monthly average between October and December 2020 (16,500 per month)
Civil legal aid
- Provisional figures[footnote 6] show that there was a 4% decrease in legal help new matter starts in January 2021 (8,400) compared to the monthly average between October and December 2020 (8,700 per month). Family starts increased by 2% and non-family starts decreased by 5% over the period.
Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme
- Following a six-month period with no starts between April and September 2020, HPCDS resumed in October 2020. There was an average of 154 starts per month between October and December 2020, with an increase to 454 starts in January 2021.
Civil representation applications
- Civil representation applications have fallen by 12% in January 2021 (8,700) compared to the monthly average between October and December 2020 (9,800 a month). Family applications decreased by 12% and non-family by 6% over the period.
This publication presents quarterly data trends. For figures published annually, including those on providers of legal aid, diversity, central funds and legal aid in the higher courts.
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A set of ‘Tables’, which give further detail and full time-series for each area.
More detailed data and Civil detail data: Detailed files to enable independent analysis, provided in .ods (OpenDocument Spreadsheet) format.
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Next update: 24 June 2021
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