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HomeStrategyVisionPromoting Social Inclusion through access to legal services

Promoting Social Inclusion through access to legal services

which it manages its economic and social role. For example, it now owns very few manufacturing or service industries as many public corporations have been privatised.

Although a smaller proportion of people work directly for the Government and in the public sector, it continues to play an important part in regulating activities. The Government does this by creating contracts with terms that determine how various private firms conduct business on the Government’s behalf.

This case study looks at how the Government has created the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to manage and ensure the best possible provision of legal services to the public.

The LSC’s role is to administer legal aid in England and Wales through its two schemes.

The Community Legal Service (CLS) helps people who are eligible for legal aid to protect their rights. It funds a network of Quality Marked solicitors, Citizens Advice Bureaux and other advice providers to help people who need advice about relationship breakdown or problems with debt, housing, domestic violence and benefits. Help is also available about asylum and immigration, education, employment, mental health and community care. Help available ranges from information leaflets and directing people to other relevant services, to specialist advice and taking cases to court where necessary.

The Criminal Defence Service (CDS) helps people who are under investigation or facing criminal charges by ensuring that people accused of a crime have access to legal advice and representation.

The CDS also helps the police and courts operate fairly and efficiently:

  • ensuring that every UK citizen has access to quality legal services
  • ensuring that people get the information, advice and legal help required to deal with a wide range of everyday problems.

Its work is a good example of how government regulates the provision of essential services designed to help vulnerable people, advance social inclusion and promote people’s access to their fundamental rights.

In modern democracies, citizens take responsibility for the society in which they live. Part of the Government’s role is to ensure that society is inclusive and that all citizens have the opportunity to make the best use they can of their skills and abilities. Among the groups that have found themselves ‘excluded’ in the past are people from black and ethnic minorities, women, lesbian and gay people, disabled people, the poor, the over 50s and lone parents.

The New Deal initiatives for unemployed people provide a good example of a government policy intended to create social inclusion. These initiatives provide a range of training opportunities to help unemployed people back into work, with all the economic and social advantages that can come from being employed.

Another example of a government policy, promoting social inclusion and helping people protect their rights is the provision of high quality legal services for all members of society.

The Government set up the LSC in 2000. It is a public body sponsored by the Government’s Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Government supplies the operating budget (c. £2b a year) and the Commission has a duty to use it to maximum effect.

The LSC funds and manages services which provide people with information, advice and help. It has around 1,700 staff working at 13 sites across England and Wales. In the past the UK’s Legal Aid system provided legal advice and support of inconsistent quality and value for money. The LSC has transformed this situation and created a system that delivers quality assured services, public accountability and value for money.

The LSC’s core purpose is to help people obtain quality legal services that tackle real needs. In this way, the LSC contributes towards: making the justice system fair, accessible and affordable to all.

The LSC delivers services through a range of partners, for example private law firms, Citizens Advice Bureaux and law centres.

Co-operation between these partners is vital for ensuring, for example, that victims of domestic violence receive the best possible advice and support and proper legal protection.

Organisations and the people working for them need a clear sense of direction. Only then will people both inside and outside an organisation understand and appreciate its purpose and support its objectives. The LSC has set out a vision statement and values for each of its four main stakeholder groupings. These are underpinned by a clear commitment to focus resolutely on the people who need legal services (the end customer or client).

The LSC’s Vision is to be:

  • Resolutely focused on its clients -ensuring that its clients have access to quality services.
  • Delivering innovative, high quality, high value legal advice and services through top quality suppliers – working with suppliers who provide quality, value for money and client focused services.
  • Delivering a sustainable scheme within the resources available and demonstrating real value to government in terms of effective cash control, improving value for money and positive outcomes for clients.
  • An organisation inspired by strong, visible leaders, where people are proud to work.
  • Being an organisation that enables the delivery of these objectives and excellence in everything it does.

 Values

For the LSC, customer service involves helping people to gain better access to quality legal services. The LSC’s other customer stakeholders are its working partners and its own employees. It seeks to serve them well too.

This gives the LSC a framework for action and includes:

  • asking for information clearly and unambiguously
  • providing clear, accurate information on time
  • being open about how decisions are reached
  • listening and responding to what people say.

Organisations also need to monitor their own performance to see if their vision is being realised. The LSC has set out performance indicators (PI) for itself, and measures its achievement against these PIs.

The Commission’s vision for people involves enabling employees to see that they are making an important difference to the lives of others. It also involves setting high standards in human resource management e.g. in recruitment and selection methods, promoting equal opportunities and personal development. All LSC employees have a personal development plan and opportunities to develop their careers.

For the supply of services, the LSC looks to improve the quality of all legal services. It allows legal service providers who meet high standards of service to display the LSC’s Quality Mark. The LSC only awards contracts to quality assured suppliers who are focused on outcomes that clearly benefit clients and deliver value for money.

As part of the Criminal Defence Service (CDS), the LSC has also established the Public Defender Service (PDS) to provide an alternative model for delivering legal services and developing best practice. Instead of providing services via contracts with legal firms, the PDS directly employs its own defence lawyers and caseworkers who provide criminal defence services directly to the public. These salaried staff represent their clients at all stages where help is required, from a client’s initial arrest and questioning at a police station through to a Crown Court trial. They also hold a budget from which they can purchase the services of specialists such as barristers and medical or forensic experts.

The Commission’s vision for partnership sets out to challenge social exclusion by ensuring that legal and advice professionals provide services that the general public really need. Through partnership the LSC aims to:

  • create a real understanding of the need for legal services and the priorities for meeting those needs
  • reach out to the wider community and the people in need of help, in order to identify how best to deliver those services
  • seek out and co-ordinate funding from the widest possible range of sources
  • build a network of legal service providers who can provide the right help at the right time.

The emphasis is on creating a partnership with legal and advice service providers rather than policing them. However, the organisations with which the LSC works must demonstrate they meet quality standards, deliver results for their clients and make effective use of public money.

Publicising the LSC’s role and services

For the wider public to make good use of legal services, they need to understand their rights and entitlements. Often the people who are most in need of help are the least aware of how to obtain it. For example, all members of the public need to know that through the Criminal Defence Service they have access to the defence services of a specialist criminal solicitor 24 hours a day if they are accused of a crime. This service at a police station is completely free. Part of the LSC’s broader role is to educate everyone about their rights and also their responsibilities under current law.

An Employer Brand is an organisation’s image as perceived by employees and by potential applicants. Just as a well-known consumer brand can generate trust, approval and the intention to buy, so an effective employer brand encourages pride and job satisfaction among existing staff. It also attracts new recruits.

The UK labour market is highly competitive. Many employers are looking to attract the best talent from the existing pool of workers. This means that having a solid, well-managed brand image is more than just a luxury. It is a necessity.

Nowhere is the brand more clear or visible than in recruitment activities. This is why the Legal Services Commission places a strong emphasis on creating recruitment literature that sets out clear messages about what working for the LSC is all about. For example:

  • team spirit
  • partnership
  • integrity
  • professionalism
  • accountability.

But, even more importantly, working for the LSC involves making a difference to people’s lives by:

  • helping vulnerable people
  • ensuring access to justice for all.

The LSC spells out these messages very clearly in its recruitment advertisements. They provide compelling reasons why many talented people with an interest in the welfare of society look to work for the LSC in a range of roles.

A society can rightly claim to be ‘inclusive’ only when it is meeting the needs and aspirations of all of its members. This is particularly important in relation to offering every citizen equal rights, equality of opportunity, and equal protection under the law.

Being able to access justice – so that a family can keep their home when they are threatened with eviction or an individual can defend their case when they are wrongly accused of a crime – are fundamental human rights. This is what the legal aid system is here to protect and the LSC plays a vital role in ensuring people understand and can exercise these rights.

By establishing a clear vision and values for its four main stakeholder groups, and by developing a strong employer brand, the LSC is increasingly able to attract and retain committed and talented individuals who share and can deliver its vision.