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Access to Justice

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2016

The Government are determined to deliver a swifter and more certain justice system that is more accessible to the public. We are investing £700 million in our courts and tribunals, and our reforms will digitise the justice system to speed up processes and provide services online; remove unnecessary hearings, paper forms and duplication; cut costs for litigants; and make justice more accessible. Moreover, they will remove hearings from the courtroom that do not need to be there; ensure we make full use of judges, courtrooms and legal teams only where necessary; and support people in resolving their disputes by means of more informal and less costly remedies.

The UK Government are proposing fee increases of up to £800 for a full hearing in asylum and immigration tribunals. This means that applicants seeking to challenge decisions on their right to enter or remain in the UK will struggle to afford this, despite the Home Office’s often getting the decision wrong. Does the Minister agree with me that access to justice should never depend on an individual’s ability to pay?

It is important that we have a court and tribunal system that either pays for itself or goes towards paying for itself. In many cases, there is a remission system to which people can apply, as appropriate under the circumstances.

Citizens advice bureaux, including those in Havant, play an important role in helping people to access justice and to understand the legal system. Will the Minister join me in congratulating them on their work and in encouraging more people to use them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Citizens Advice service provides invaluable advice to the population. I wholeheartedly congratulate citizens advice bureaux, and I suspect I speak for the whole House in commending them for all the wonderful work they do.

15. The Supreme Court has found that the Justice Secretary acted without moral authority and in a legal vacuum. Will he now ensure that there will be access to justice for those who do not meet the residence test? (904677)

The Government are disappointed with the findings of the Supreme Court on the residence test, particularly when the last Government listened to Parliament and the public, and we made exceptions to that test. I am minded to say that there are millions of people across the country who take the view that it is right that there should be some sort of connection with Britain for people who seek to have their legal aid funds paid for by the British public.

19. Claudia Lawrence from York was last seen on 18 March 2009; she is still missing, as are around 2,500 people in the UK. In the midst of their grief, families have to battle to deal with financial and property affairs, and they need access to justice. There is a simple solution: guardianship on behalf of the missing person. The Government promised this over a year ago. Will the Secretary of State commit to putting it in this year’s Queen’s Speech? (904681)

That is a very good example of what I call “shoe-horning”. The hon. Lady shoe-horned in a later question into this one, and was just about in order. She is very ingenious.

The hon. Lady raises a very good point. There is a huge amount of sympathy across the political divide for the individual about whom she spoke. She will appreciate, however, that it would be inappropriate for me to pre-empt what will appear in the Queen’s Speech.

In order to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities, will the Minister confirm that personal independence payments will not be used in calculations that determine whether or not someone is entitled to help with employment tribunal cases?

Much consideration is given when assessing the criteria to be taken into account. The Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and others are involved, and it would be inappropriate for me to make a decision right now from the Dispatch Box in the way the hon. Lady asks me to do.

I listened very carefully to the Minister’s previous answer, but I still find it very difficult to understand that while this Conservative Government voted not to take in 3,000 refugee children, the Ministry of Justice is proposing to raise written first-tier immigration and asylum tribunal fees by a massive 512%. How on earth are vulnerable people going to be able to challenge what are quite often errors by the Home Office? Will the Minister please tell me where the justice is in this?

I simply say to the hon. Lady that there are a series of exemptions for vulnerable people. We need to recognise that the court system has to be paid for, and it is perfectly reasonable for the British taxpayer to expect those who use our court system to make a contribution towards its running.