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Access to Justice

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 17 December 2013

The fee remissions scheme was updated on 7 October this year. It provides for court and tribunal fees to be waived in whole or in part based on an assessment of the user’s disposable capital and gross monthly income. The scheme ensures that access to justice is protected for those who cannot afford to pay court or tribunal fees. Legal aid also remains available in many cases, and those granted legal aid will have their court fees paid.

I am interested in that answer. Why is it, then, that the legal profession in Bradford is telling me that, as a result of the Government’s introduction of charges for industrial tribunals—£1,500 before taking a case—and reduced support for legal advice workers, people will be denied reasonable access to justice?

The system is very clear. When someone needs to go to court but does not have the income to pay any court fees incurred, there is a system of fee remissions that ensures that they do not have to contribute.

The Secretary of State’s justification for the legal aid residence test is contribution, particularly through tax. Can he therefore explain his decision to exempt only certain categories of children from the test? If he fails to broaden the exemption, is he not in danger of falling into the trap that the Joint Committee on Human Rights described last week as

“knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”?

I might be a bit old-fashioned, but I do not think that we should give civil legal aid to people who have just arrived in the country. However, I recognise some of the issues raised in the consultation and I have listened. The change with regard to very young children under 12 months old was specifically requested by people in the judiciary. I listened and I introduced it.

One group particularly badly hit by the Government’s restrictions on access to justice are mesothelioma sufferers. The Secretary of State has not carried out the review that he promised in order to get the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 through. He continues to confuse funding for mesothelioma with the Mesothelioma Bill, even though there is no connection. He has not even answered the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) asked at the previous Justice questions, which he promised to do. Why is he making people who suffer from that terrible disease pay 25% of their compensation in lawyers’ fees and then telling them to shop around? When will he give justice to mesothelioma sufferers?

Of course this is not a new problem, and in many areas we are picking up on things that were not done by the previous Government. We will bring forward a further consultation on these issues shortly.