Page 1: Introduction
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) helps people to understand the law and, if necessary, helps them to gain their rights under the law. The funding provided by government for this work is known as legal aid and amounts to £2 billion per annum. The LSC administers legal aid in England and Wales. (There is a different system in place in Scotland.)
The LSC helps people to know their rights and what steps they can take to claim their rights. People may have problems at work, at home or with organisations in positions of power. For instance, they may be treated unfairly at work and have a claim against an employer. They may have problems with a landlord, for example, one who is not carrying out essential repairs. They may be entitled to working tax credits or child tax credits and not know how to claim these benefits. They may have been arrested by the police and not know their rights.
In all cases, they may need support to be able to make a case against an opponent who may be more powerful or in many cases have more money and be better organised.
The LSC has 1,700 staff on 13 sites. It also contracts with legal services providers around the UK, including solicitors and not-for-profit organisations like law centres or Citizen Advice Bureau. These bring experience and expertise to level the legal playing field.
The LSC deals with over two million people in an average year. A quarter of these (approximately 500,000) will experience legal problems such as divorce, eviction or debt. This will increase to a third amongst those who are long-term sick or disabled and half of those who are either lone parents or unemployed. The LSC works with local authorities and advice agencies, with solicitors, its own Public Defender Service and other lawyers to provide help to anyone with these types of problems. It also helps those held in a police station or facing criminal charges, if they cannot afford their own representation.
All citizens of a country should have the right to fair and equal treatment under the law. They should have the right to a fair trial if they are accused of doing something wrong. They should have access to experts who can help them to solve problems and disputes. For example, every year the Legal Services Commission helps over 75,000 people with debt problems and over 100,000 people who have housing problems, in particular, those in disputes with landlords. This is especially important when someone is not as strong or as wealthy as the other party in the dispute.
Wealthy people have easier access to lawyers as they can pay for them and people believe lawyers are very expensive. So poorer people need support to be able to access their basic rights fairly. This is called 'social justice'. It means making sure that no one is at a disadvantage because of their social position their place in society. This case study focuses on the work of the LSC and illustrates what factors affect its performance and how it responds to these factors.