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Court System

Volume 647: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2018

We are taking a large number of measures to ensure that our court system is brought up to date in the 21st century. For example, we are allowing people to make applications online, with over 50% of divorce petitions now submitted online. We are making better use of technology, so that in some cases vulnerable witnesses can give pre-recorded evidence. We are also allowing those with small claims, up to £10,000, to start their claim online, defend it online and in some cases settle before the case comes to court.

Will my hon. and learned Friend consider establishing a financial services tribunal to provide a low-cost dispute resolution mechanism to ensure justice for small and medium-sized businesses when they have a dispute with their bank?

I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend, together with Heather Buchanan from the all-party group on fair business banking and finance. The APPG has produced a thorough report on this very issue, which I have read with interest. As he identifies, it is important that small businesses can bring claims against the banks when they need to do so. I have spoken to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is carefully considering the APPG report, together with—when it comes out—the Financial Conduct Authority’s consultation on expanding the role of Financial Ombudsman Service, and who will consider Simon Walker’s independent review of complaints. I know that he is keen to set out the Government’s position as soon as possible after that.

Given the findings of the Lammy review, which showed that those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds face discrimination in the criminal justice system, what progress has the Department made in ensuring that juries and judges better reflect the communities that they are there to serve?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, because everyone who takes part in our justice system, as in politics, should reflect the society that it represents. That is not only juries; it is the professions that are there to support the judiciary on the bench. It is important that we look at the position in relation to juries.

Following the decision to close courts in Bicester and Banbury, will the Minister agree to meet me and a group of local magistrates to discuss the provision of a mobile court locally, such as people have in Kent?

My hon. Friend has campaigned hard on the closure of her court. I am always happy to meet with her. She made a lot of submissions to me during the consultation on the closure and put in a fair report. I am happy to meet her, and I know that she is very keen on alternative provision.

We hear a lot from the Government about this so-called court modernisation programme, but many people believe that it is simply a smoke-screen to cut the number of courts and reduce the provision of legal representation for those in court. Will the Minister agree to the Law Society’s call for an independent economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system?

We do make a lot of court reform because we are spending £1 billion to bring our court system up to date. In relation to legal aid, we have an ongoing review that will report at the end of the year, and we will be evaluating our court reform programme.