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Access to Justice

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2019

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to highlight the important work that we are doing in the criminal justice system. Last year, we spent £882 million on criminal legal aid and this year we announced an investment of a further £23 million for criminal advocates. We are spending £1 billion to transform our Courts and Tribunals Service. However, improvements to the criminal justice system, as with the civil justice system, are not just about money and we are seeking to bring our justice system up to date, modernising it and making sure that people have swift and effective access to justice.

The Loughborough University report “Priced out of Justice?” identified how many people were excluded from justice because of the means test. I welcome the review of the means test that the Government are conducting but, pending the outcome, would the Minister support calls from the Law Society for the means test threshold to be uprated now as part of the spring statement?

As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have recently done a legal aid review. As part of that review, we were not obliged to look into thresholds because there were not very many changes to thresholds as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. However, we recognise the need to look at that because the figures have not been uprated for some time. We are undertaking that review and the timetable for that is set out in our legal support action plan.

A recent report from Women’s Aid has set out that many women are now having to represent themselves because they do not meet the threshold for legal aid. But the report also says that the only savings the women have cannot be used because they have to be able to rehouse themselves. Can the Minister give some assurance that she is willing to look at improving the situation of these individuals, so that they do not have to represent themselves in court, which can have a hugely negative impact on the victim’s experience within the justice system?

I am fully aware of the issues that these women face. I am very pleased to have held a number of roundtables, as part of our understanding for the review, with a number of vulnerable parties, including women. Women’s Aid was part of those roundtables, where we had an opportunity to hear from it directly. That is one of the reasons why we have specifically mentioned victims of domestic violence, and we will look at the thresholds in the legal aid review that we are conducting.