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Bail (Legal Aid)

Volume 990: debated on Monday 4 August 1980

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asked the Attorney-General whether he has now considered the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Legal Services relating to the provision of legal aid for bail applications; and if he will make a statement.

As at any one time there are at least 5,000 unconvicted people in prison awaiting trial, as each costs the community £112 per day, as the prisons are overcrowded and as about half those defendants are found not guilty or given non-custodial sentences, is there not some reason for anxiety? Since those represented before a judge in Chambers have five times the prospect of being given bail as do those who rely on the Official Solicitor, may we have an early decision on the proposals?

It is right to emphasise that the Official Solicitor always gets a much higher proportion of hopeless cases. Those who instruct a private solicitor when there is no prospect of success will be advised by the solicitor not to go on, and they will probably accept his advice. The Royal Commission made about 370 recommendations. Many of them are of great importance and we are having to look at them as a whole. I appreciate the problems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the arrangements for the provision of legal aid are unsatisfactory in many respects, besides those that relate to applications for bail? For example, is he aware of the difficulties of parents seeking to recover custody of their children in care, because those parents are not eligible for legal aid? Is it not important that urgent consideration should be given to the possibility of bringing forward recommendations to provide for a complete overhaul of the legal aid system?

I shall see that the hon. Member's views are made known to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Does the Attorney-General appreciate that a great deal of injustice is done in many instances when legal aid is not available for bail appli- cations? Does he agree that in a previous incarnation he sympathised with legal aid being extended into this area?

I have not lost any of my sympathy with the position of those awaiting trial, especially when they are still before the magistrates, who do not have the remedy of going to the Crown court and my feelings that they should be offered every facility. However, we have to look at that recommendation with all others, and there are others of high priority, too.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), the Attorney-General, who I notice has leapt out of the Chamber, said that he would draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary. About bail, that might be relevant. However, my hon. Friend was asking about parents trying to get back their children, which is a civil matter and the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor who, as we know, does not wish this matter to be discussed in any Select Committee of the House. I hope that the Attorney-General will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of his noble and learned Friend as well.

I am sure that what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has said will be brought to the notice of the Attorney-General. I was very kind to the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). I allowed him to go beyond the scope of the question, which was limited to legal aid for bail applications. I exercised my discretion in the last week before the recess.