Initial scope: Public Defender Scheme
The Treasury launched a 'Securing Added Value and Efficiencies' (SAVE) initiative in 2017, and its remit was to gather cost saving and efficiency ideas which could be introduced to achieve budgetary savings. Over 1300 ideas were submitted, of which ~700 were money-saving suggestions, and included the idea of establishing a Public Defender Scheme (PDS). A 'SAVE Progress Report' was laid before the June 2018 sitting of Tynwald, and included a 'Proof of Concept' for a PDS, which estimated that savings of over £1m per annum could be achieved.
A commitment was made to considering the feasibility of establishing a PDS and HM Attorney General agreed at the request of the Treasury to lead this work. As a result, an 18-month Project Manager post was created within the Attorney General's Chambers from September 2018. This arrangement helped ensure that the project not only had the highest level of legal oversight, it also had a dedicated project resource and an appropriate level of separation from the Treasury.
Extension of scope: Criminal Legal Aid
Whilst the initial scope of the project focused on a PDS, it soon became apparent that the feasibility of a PDS could not be considered in isolation. It was then agreed that a review of Criminal Legal Aid provision in general would be more appropriate. Such a review would seek to provide a comprehensive 'baseline' for the Island's Criminal Legal Aid, supported by evidence provided from key stakeholders. The project would also examine whether any aspects of Criminal Legal Aid could or should be changed or improved, and views on the feasibility of a PDS would form part of this work.
Further extension of scope: Civil & Family Legal Aid
At the January 2019 sitting of Tynwald, the Treasury Minister in his capacity as Chair of the SAVE Sub-Committee of the Council of Ministers made a statement to advise that following a request from the Legal Aid Committee, the SAVE Sub-Committee had agreed to extend the scope of the Criminal Legal Aid review to include Civil and Family Legal Aid with immediate effect. As a result, the extended project was termed the Legal Aid Review with a focus on access to justice, quality of service and value for money.
The Treasury Minister confirmed that no policy decisions pertaining to Legal Aid had been made, as such decisions remained the statutory responsibility of the Legal Aid Committee by virtue of the Legal Aid Act 1986. Furthermore, at the request of the SAVE Sub-Committee of Council, HM Attorney General agreed to continue to lead the Legal Aid Review.