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Legal Advice

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017

7. What progress has been made on making access to affordable or pro bono legal advice more widely available. (909092)

The Government’s court programme aims to deliver a justice system that is more accessible. Legal support needs to reflect the new way in which the justice system will work, so a Green Paper is proposed for early next year. I recently addressed the Civil Justice Council and was able to pay tribute to the work of Mr Justice Knowles and the tireless work of everyone in the pro bono sector that does so much for our country.

Will the Minister join me in thanking law students from Huddersfield University law school and local law practices for their excellent work in providing a fantastic Huddersfield legal advice clinic in the Packhorse centre? Does he agree that as constituency MPs we must make sure that we can direct our constituents not only to pro bono legal advice but to affordable and accessible legal advice?

Huddersfield University is known as a beacon in this area, and it has done tremendous work. I was pleased to meet some of the students during pro bono week last year. I pay tribute to them and to all the universities and other bodies that set aside time to help people with their legal work.

The Minister will know that much good pro bono work is going on in the legal profession, but does it balance all the crooked, bent solicitors in the insurance industry who are practising in our towns and cities and who are behind the conspiracy over whiplash?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the improper behaviour that occurs in some cases. It is right that the Solicitors Regulation Authority and disciplinary tribunals take a tough line on that. We have seen some recent examples of that.

Barristers and solicitors across the country are making a remarkable pro bono contribution worth around £600 million per annum, but they cannot do it all. Does the Minister agree that pro bono must be an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, a properly resourced legal aid system?

I do agree with that, but with the caveat that we are changing the way in which the justice system works, so that it is simpler and more accessible. We are also using modern technology. We should look at how legal support dovetails with all that. So, yes—but we are moving forward with our plans.

In a report called “Cuts that hurt”, Amnesty International highlights the devastating impact of legal aid cuts on vulnerable groups in England. Amnesty concluded that the cuts had decimated access to justice. What steps is the Minister taking to review the impact of the Government’s cuts to legal aid in England and Wales?

When I addressed the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid, I was pleased to meet members of Amnesty International to discuss their concerns about particular areas of law. We have announced our timetable for the review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which involves delivering a full memorandum to the Justice Committee by May and holding a full review going through into early next year, at which point there will be a Green Paper on legal support.

Since 2013, legal aid funding has not been available in England and Wales for many immigration cases, including family reunion cases. Unaccompanied or separated children making applications to stay in the UK have to do so on their own, without legal assistance. Given Amnesty’s findings, will the Minister follow the example of the Scottish Government and provide legal advice and assistance to vulnerable individuals such as those children, who have to navigate a very complex immigration system?

Justice questions would be a lot shorter if we did not have quite so many lawyers. They are very clever and eloquent, but they do take up a lot of the time.

I am not going to make my declaration about that now, Mr Speaker. This is a complex issue. There is a role for the local authorities to play, and there is some legal aid available, but I am in correspondence with Amnesty and am looking into the matter in detail.