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Legal Aid

Volume 890: debated on Monday 21 April 1975

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asked the Attorney-General when the White Report into the need for an extension of legal aid will be presented; and whether it will be published.

It is expected that before the end of the summer my noble Friend will have received advice from those of his officials who are at present urgently studying the nature and extent of the need for legal services which is not now being met. My noble Friend will study that advice and consider in what form the conclusions he reaches can best be communicated to hon. Members.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply, but will he indicate whether he is prepared to undertake that review before he gets the White Paper? Is that what he is telling the House?

I think there is some misunderstanding here. In his Question the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the White Report. Mr. White, is, in fact, now a member of the Department of my noble Friend, and therefore the matters that will come before my noble Friend will be very much influenced by the thinking of Mr. White, but he will in practice be receiving advice, as he does in other matters.

Does the Attorney-General recall that it was in November last year that the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee recommended the extension of legal aid to all sorts of tribunals? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman persuade his Department to get a move on in implementing those recommendations?

I have already said that it is hoped that the advice which is being collated will be available before the end of the summer. As I have said on an earlier occasion in answer to previous Questions on a similar subject, there are a great many priorities for the extension of legal aid or the provision of legal services where there is a need for it. They have all to be looked at together, and that is what my noble Friend will do as soon as he receives his advice.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he will be prepared to undertake an investigation into charges levied by solicitors and barristers on litigants? Is he aware that many people cannot afford to be represented in court appearances and that this is due largely to the excessive charges which the legal Mafia is able to levy?

My hon. Friend is in a much better position to speak about the legal Mafia than I am, because I have not met any members of it. I assure him that the whole purpose of legal aid and of the inquiries now going on into better satisfying the need for legal services, which undoubtedly exists, will be directed to the problem which he has posed.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many cases coming before the courts are never properly heard, because of the lack of legal aid? Will he give this matter his personal attention?

That is one of the factors—and there are many—which my noble Friend has under constant review and which this special study will deal with in one form or another.