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Access to Justice

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2014

7. What steps he plans to take to ensure that people have access to justice regardless of ability to pay. (905991)

The Government’s reform programme to promote access to justice aims to deliver a simpler justice system that is more accessible to the public. It aims to limit the scope for inappropriate litigation and the involvement of lawyers in issues that do not need legal input, and to support people in resolving their disputes through simpler, more informal remedies.

The Minister will know that since this Government took the axe to legal aid, the number of litigants in person has been on the rise, clogging up the courts, costing time and costing money. How many more people defended themselves in court in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2010?

The hon. Lady will be aware that there have always been litigants in person, even before the legal aid reductions. The Government are putting in place measures to assist those people. Moreover, judges are working with us to ensure that they are assisted. We will continue to monitor the position and give assistance to people who are acting as litigants in person.

18. A retired Welsh judge told BBC Wales last month that cuts to legal aid in the family court meant rising numbers of couples representing themselves, more contested hearings and longer delays in resolving cases, which“must be damaging to the child”.What consideration are the Government giving to the extent to which the system is working in the best interests of children? (906002)

I remind the hon. Lady that the manifesto on which she stood at the last election referred in chapter 5, page 5 to legal aid cuts that would be made if Labour got into government. Perhaps she would like to ask the Opposition Front Benchers whether they intend to reverse the cuts that we have made.

The Minister will be aware that we disagree with the scale of the civil and criminal legal aid cuts that his Government have made. Has he read the serious recent criticism from a senior judge, Sir James Munby; a retired judge, Sir John Royce, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) asked a simple question; and Emma Scott, the director of the Rights for Women charity? They have all expressed concern about the impact of the Government’s cuts. Is the Minister aware of their concerns and will he meet them? They are apolitical, serious experts who are genuinely worried about the impact of his cuts.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether I have read certain things. Has he read The Law Society Gazette of 24 September, following the Labour conference? The heading was, “Labour will not reverse legal aid cuts—Slaughter”. The reporter states:

“Labour’s legal aid spokesman has warned that the party cannot reverse the cuts of the current government if it comes to power next year.”

It goes on to say—I will be brief, Mr Speaker—that

“in a packed meeting organised by Justice Alliance UK in Manchester…Slaughter said he could not commit to re-establishing legal aid.”

It quotes the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) as saying:

“We’re not going to get in a Tardis and go back to before”.