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Access to Justice Act 1999

The Commission

50.Section 1: The Legal Services Commission. This section establishes the new Legal Services Commission, and makes provision for appointments to it. The Commission will replace the Legal Aid Board. It is considered necessary to establish a new body to reflect the fundamentally different nature of the Community Legal Service (CLS) compared to civil legal aid. Within the broad framework of priorities set by the Lord Chancellor, the Commission will be responsible for taking detailed decisions about the allocation of resources. It will also be required to liaise with other funders to develop the CLS more widely.

51.The Commission will also have a wider role in respect of the Criminal Defence Service than the Legal Aid Board does in respect of criminal legal aid. The Board has very limited responsibilities for legal aid in the higher criminal courts.

52.Section 1 is similar to section 3 of the Legal Aid Act 1988 (“the 1988 Act”), which established the Legal Aid Board. However, the membership of the Commission will differ from that of the Board, to reflect a shift in focus from the needs of providers to the needs of users of legal services. Also, the Commission is to be rather smaller than the Board: with between 7 and 12 members rather than 11 to 17. This is intended to facilitate focused decision-making.

53.Section 1(6) gives effect to Schedule 1 (Legal Services Commission) which makes further provisions about the Commission. Paragraphs 1-10, 12 and 17, concerning the members, staff and proceedings of the Commission, mirror provisions about the Board in Schedule 1 to the 1988 Act, except that Treasury consent to arrangements for the pay, pensions and compensation of members and the staff of the Commission will not be required. Paragraph 11 provides for the Commission’s administrative budget, mirroring section 42(1)(b) & (2) of the 1988 Act. Paragraph 13 requires the Commission to provide any information requested by the Lord Chancellor; this mirrors a provision in section 5 of the 1988 Act. Paragraph 16 requires the Commission to prepare accounts and provides for them to be audited. This mirrors section 7 of the 1988 Act, except that the Comptroller and Auditor General, rather than an appointed auditor, will audit the Commission’s accounts.

54.Paragraph 14 requires the Commission to prepare an annual report on the discharge of its functions. This will be laid before Parliament. It will include a report on the impact of the Commission’s activities on the supply and development of legal services within the wider CLS. (Section 5 of the 1988 Act provides for the Legal Aid Board’s annual report).

55.Paragraph 15 requires the Commission to prepare an annual plan, which will be laid before Parliament. This will include the Commission’s detailed plans for allocating the resources available to the CLS fund (see paragraph 68 below). This is a new requirement. The Legal Aid Board produces annual corporate and business plans, but these are not statutory documents nor laid before Parliament.

56.Part II of Schedule 14 makes transitional provisions for the replacement of the Legal Aid Board by the Commission. Briefly, it provides that, on an appointed day, the Commission shall take over all the property, rights and liabilities of the Board. Staff of the Board will automatically become staff of the Commission, and their employment and pension rights are preserved.

57.The intention is that the provisions of the 1988 Act will remain in force for any cases that have already started when the new schemes come into effect. The Commission will be responsible for the continued administration of these cases.

58.Section 2: Power to replace Commission with two bodies. This section allows the Lord Chancellor, by order subject to Parliamentary approval under the affirmative resolution procedure (by virtue of section 25(9)), to split the Legal Services Commission into two separate bodies, one responsible for the Community Legal Service and the other for the Criminal Defence Service.

59.This allows for the possibility that, because of the different nature and objectives of the two schemes, it may prove more effective in the longer term to administer them separately. It would not be practicable to set up two bodies from the outset. This is because of the need to retain, in substance, the existing infrastructure and expertise of the Legal Aid Board to manage the transition from legal aid to the two new schemes. This involves both administering existing cases under the old scheme and developing contracting as the principal means of procuring services under the new schemes.

60.There is no definite intention to split the administration of the two schemes in future. Rather, the intention is to review the situation once the new schemes are firmly established, probably after about 5 years.

61.Section 3: Powers of Commission. This section gives the Legal Services Commission similar general powers to those presently enjoyed by the Legal Aid Board (section 4 of the 1988 Act). These powers will allow the Commission to do whatever it believes is necessary in the discharge of its functions. Later sections exemplify the ways in which the powers may be used in the provision of specific services (see sections 6(3), 13(2) and 14(2)).

62.Section 3(4) provides that the Commission may delegate its functions to others. For example, it might delegate to contracted providers certain decisions about the funding of particular cases (much as the Legal Aid Board delegates some decisions to franchised firms now). Section 3(5) empowers the Lord Chancellor to make orders about whether and how the Commission should delegate certain functions. For example, he might make an order requiring the Commission to monitor the decisions made by providers under a delegation.

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Text created by the government department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Public Acts except Appropriation, Consolidated Fund, Finance and Consolidation Acts.


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