A new investigation by law firms Hogan Lovells, Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds Sutherland and Mishcon de Reya has confirmed growing levels of unmet legal need in MPs' constituency surgeries. This survey builds on an earlier study undertaken 5 years ago and shows that MPs continue to face an uphill battle to secure free legal services for their constituents.
The law firms, working in partnership with LawWorks and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Access to Justice, conducted research of almost 300 constituency appointments in 37 MP surgeries in areas including Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Durham, London, Manchester, Newbury, Oxford and Reading between October 2022 and March 2023. In addition, 98 MPs' caseworkers responded to an online survey about their casework.
Over six months, appointments were observed by researchers, with 75% of casework relating to legal issues. Housing issues were the most common legal issue reported by constituents (46%), followed by immigration and asylum issues (16%). Of those constituents raising legal issues, only 13% had instructed a lawyer, and a majority of caseworkers who responded to the online survey (56%) said that the organisations providing legal advice within their constituencies did not have sufficient capacity to deal with their constituents' legal problems.
One of the project leads, Claire Dumbill, an Associate at Hogan Lovells, said: "This research emphasises the continued pressing need for greater access to affordable legal advice across the country, particularly in relation to housing and immigration rights. It also highlights the impact that this unmet need for legal advice has on the huge volumes of casework that many MPs and their staff are now routinely faced with. We look forward to addressing the implications of this research with MPs, government, legal aid charities, law firms and others active in the sector."
Research also found that the volume of casework MPs are processing has risen since before the pandemic: over half (56%) of caseworkers responding to the survey said their casework had increased significantly in this period. Likewise, it found that how MPs run their surgeries and engage with their constituents has changed considerably due to the pandemic and the tragic deaths of Jo Cox and Sir David Amess.
The findings from the research highlight the significant role that MPs and their caseworkers play in signposting or referring constituents to legal advice providers in their community. In conclusion, the report makes a series of recommendations that include: training for MPs and their caseworkers on legal issues; improving legal aid coverage; increasing funding and resources for advice charities so that they have the capacity both to help people seeking advice in the areas of the law they cover and to manage volunteer pro bono resource (which is underutilised); and investment in the creation of a shared learning platform.
Download the full report.