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Ease of Initiating Legal Proceedings

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

5. What steps the Government are taking to make it easier for people to initiate legal proceedings. (908249)

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.

Will the Minister go a little further and say how she can make it easier for people to participate in proceedings once they have initiated them?

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.

The number of litigants in person has shot up. What urgent action is the Ministry of Justice taking to ensure proper representation for people across the board?

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.

Will the Minister outline any intentions to review the legal aid process, which currently does not allow middle class families to access legal redress due to a lack of ability to pay bills and thereby pay for legal help and assistance?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are in the process of an extensive legal aid review, which will look at many aspects and report early in the new year. [Interruption.]

I hear the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) burbling from a sedentary position about the spirit of Christmas. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

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.

In my experience the hon. Gentleman is interested in every area of every policy in our public life.

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.