The Government are simplifying many application processes, making it much easier to initiate proceedings. Once a decision to get divorced has been made, one can now petition for a divorce online. Probate can be applied for online and a money claim can be issued, for up to £10,000, using our online courts process.
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. It is important not only to be able to initiate proceedings easily, but participate in them. Recently, we had early testing of full video hearings held in a tax tribunal, enabling the applicant and the respondent to not have to travel to court or take any time off work. In fact, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was based in Belfast in those cases and the applicants were elsewhere in the country—and, in one case, in Greece. That small scale evaluation shows that participants found them convenient and easy to understand. They will not be appropriate for every case, but this is technology we need to consider.
Litigants in person do need support through our justice system, which is why, over the past few years, we have spent £6.5 million investing in helping them through the court process. Many of our reforms which form part of our £1 billion programme will make sure that forms are easier, applying to court is easier, getting to court and the whole process is easier for people whether they have a lawyer or not.
Mr Speaker, are we really going back to the old days when people used to say that the courts of England were open to everyone, just like the Ritz hotel? The truth is that access to justice in this country is being diminished. The Department’s budget has been cut badly. Indeed, in the area I am very interested in, miscarriages of justice, there is not the money to keep the commission going properly.
I have now heard that phrase three times in debates I have taken part in. The reason various cuts were made in 2010 was the perilous financial situation that our Parliament found itself in. We in the Department are looking extremely carefully at how we deliver justice for people. We are investing £1 billion in our core reform programme, while ensuring we use taxpayers’ money efficiently and well.