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Access to Justice

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2015

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

Let me give the Minister one more chance to answer a question on last week’s Justice Committee report on the civil legal aid cuts, which revealed that the Government have failed to achieve all three of their targets. Can the Minister confirm that there has been an underspend in the legal aid budget, and that exceptional case funding has failed to achieve the aim of protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable?

For the benefit of the hon. Lady, let me say once again that if it were not for the Government whom she supported causing the mess that they did, we would not have been obliged to make the cuts we have had to make. Despite making them, we still have one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world.

As I said, we compare very favourably internationally. We have one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world, and that is after the cuts have come through.

It is a fact that the Government’s cuts to legal aid have denied thousands access to legal advice. The Government’s changes to tribunal and court fees are having an additional impact on women and other vulnerable groups. The number of victims of domestic violence receiving legal aid has fallen significantly, and the number of sex discrimination claims is down by 90%. Unless the Government genuinely believe that this is an indication of significant improvements to society—that it indicates less domestic violence and less sex discrimination—women are being denied access to justice. Will the Government agree to an urgent review of the impact of the changes they have made on women and other vulnerable groups?

In that very long contribution from the right hon. Gentleman, it is regrettable that not once did he say that if he were Lord Chancellor, he would reverse the cuts we have made. That sums up where the Opposition are: they are happy to object, they are happy to write articles—[Interruption.] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman points to the public. I point to the public as well, and I say that nowhere did the right hon. Gentleman say that Labour would reverse the cuts we have made. [Interruption.]

Order. Members must calm down. The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is a distinguished ornament of this House, a celebrated figure, a former Minister. Decorum, I remind her.

When the right hon. Lady was a Minister, she had to answer questions. She is not burdened with that responsibility at present.