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Legal Aid

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

The Government are committed to the civil legal aid residence test and are planning the next steps following the success in the Court of Appeal. Individuals should have a strong connection to the UK to benefit from the civil legal aid scheme.

The Minister was forced to admit last year that there were no precise figures for any savings from this policy area. The policy was also criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and is subject to further legal scrutiny under the Supreme Court. Is it not time that the Minister gave up the ghost on this failed area of policy?

Given the Court of Appeal judgment on 25 November, when it sided with the Government, we have no intention of giving up on this. It is important to remember that people who seek to have benefit from UK taxpayers should show some connection to this country. It is perfectly reasonable to expect people to have continuous 12-month residency in the UK before they benefit from UK taxpayers’ money for their legal aid.

On legal aid and any potential change, has the Minister turned his mind to the disparity involved when one parent abuses the legal aid available to them in order to get an upper hand in contact cases with their children while the other parent has to self-finance?

There are, of course, rules and regulations as to who qualifies and who does not. I cannot comment on specific individual cases, but the Legal Aid Agency does try to make sure that it is only those who qualify who get the assistance it provides.

In June, the Justice Secretary criticised what he called the two nation justice system, but restricting civil legal aid according to how long an individual has lived in this country clearly widens the gap between those afforded access to justice and those not. The residence test would have denied justice to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes. Does the Minister think that that is right, and if not, will he drop the two nation justice policy of the Justice Secretary’s predecessor?

The hon. Gentleman needs to appreciate that we have had to take tough measures. It is vital, and the British people in their millions rightfully say that they want overseas people to have some connection with the UK before getting use of the taxes that they pay. The residence test has gone through the court process to the Court of Appeal, and if it goes further, the Government will object and robustly defend our stance on the residence test.