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Court Reform

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

Thanks to the leadership shown by our judiciary—in particular, by Sir Brian Leveson—we are now in a position to reform access to justice comprehensively.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Lowestoft magistrates court plays an important role in providing local access to justice in north-east Suffolk. Will he meet local users and me to agree on the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the court continues to play that role into the long term?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and those who have benefited from the administration of justice in the part of Suffolk he represents, but it is important to recognise that a third of our courts and tribunals are used less than 50% of the time. We do need to reform our court estate, but we can do so and improve access to justice by taking a 21st-century approach to ensuring that justice is served.

Cuts to legal aid have meant that lots of our constituents are finding it even more difficult to access justice, and often they are the most vulnerable constituents who come to see us at our surgeries as a result. What is the new Justice Secretary going to do to make sure that those individuals get access to justice?

We are going to review the operation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Act that transformed and reformed our legal aid landscape. We are also, as I have today, going to ask the very richest in the justice system to do a little bit more. One thing that struck me is that there are people in senior solicitors’ firms and in our best chambers who are not doing enough, given how well they have done out of the legal system, to support the very poorest—they need to do more.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to have a more efficient courts service we need a more efficient listing system, and that to get that we need to take more of our existing courts and put them into fewer buildings and to have more efficiency in the use of technology?

My hon. Friend is, not for the first or for the last time, absolutely right. He was a great Justice Minister and he is absolutely on the button when he makes the point that we need a more efficient administration of justice in the interests of victims, witnesses and taxpayers.

The Lord Chancellor has indeed had something to say about the reform of the court system this morning. May I say “Well done” for spotting the gaping inequality in the justice system that his predecessor has created? Did he have in mind the 89% fall in social welfare legal aid cases under the previous Government—legal aid for the very poorest—or his own further cut in criminal legal aid announced last week? The president of the Law Society said that that cut could

“undermine the criminal justice system to the point that it may no longer deliver fair outcomes.”

As usual, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the generous and bipartisan tone in which he conducts these exchanges. I am also grateful to him for drawing attention to some of the reforms that we have made to reduce the amount spent on legal aid. When his colleague and friend the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) was the shadow Justice Secretary, he made the point that the amount that the previous Labour Government spent on legal aid was unsustainable. We will review the reforms that we have made to ensure that we can maintain access to justice and also safeguard the interests of victims, witnesses and taxpayers.