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Legal Aid

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

In the past five years, we have taken action to put the country’s finances back on track, while protecting legal aid for those who need it the most. Legal aid remains a vital part of our justice system, and we must ensure that it is sustainable and fair for those who need it and those who provide legal services, and fair for the taxpayer. I am pleased that the recent spending review led to no further reductions in criminal legal aid.

All victims of domestic violence must be fully supported in freeing their lives from this menace. Does the Minister agree that it is vital to maintain full access to justice for victims of domestic violence all the way through the legal system?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend, and we have made sure that legal aid remains available for victims of domestic violence who need it. We have also made recent changes making it easier to obtain legal aid in cases where domestic violence is a factor, and we have made sure that once legal aid is granted, no further applications need be made for the duration of the case.

Chester is a city for the legal industry and the legal sector. I am told that numerous criminal legal aid solicitors have been forced out of business or forced to amalgamate with large national firms, while barristers on the Chester circuit are being forced to subsidise access to justice in legal aid cases because they are not getting paid enough through the current legal aid system. Will the Minister review his changes to legal aid, and perhaps deal with them in the same way as the criminal courts charge—by reversing the disastrous changes made in the first place?

We have a legal aid budget of £1.6 billion, which is one of the largest in the world. By comparison with other common law jurisdictions such as Australia, Northern Ireland and Canada, we have double the expenditure per inhabitant. We have started a process and we will see it through. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those in need of legal aid will be able to have it where it is necessary.