Legal advice could be given in GP surgeries to address issues which could exacerbate mental health problems, the Ministry of Justice has said.
The move was announced as part of the government review of legal aid reforms – introduced in England and Wales in 2013 to cut the £2bn budget by £350m. The review states that legal aid could also be provided in GP surgeries as part of an "early intervention" pilot scheme.
‘We are pleased to see this review finally published after much delay,’ said Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind. ‘Mind submitted evidence which showed how people with mental health problems are more likely to be affected by changes to the scope of legal aid. It was positive to see this research recognised in the publication, but it’s frustrating to see no explicit Government commitment to lessen the negative impact this legislation is having on people with mental health problems.’
The review cited the example of the UCL integrated Legal Advice Clinic in Newham. This provides advice, casework and representation across a range of legal issues, with specialisms in welfare benefits, housing, community care and education law. The clinic receives referrals from GPs in the Liberty Bridge Road General Practice, as well as drop-ins from patients attending other clinics at the health centre, other GP practices and the wider local community.
‘We are also disappointed that the review seemingly dismisses much of the sector’s evidence of the impact on vulnerable people as anecdotal,’ added Ms Nash. ‘After all, it is the real experiences of people that should be taken into account, for example, people who are severely unwell facing the prospect of representing themselves in court without a lawyer or advocate.