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Access to Criminal Justice

Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2019

It is vital that our criminal justice system remains fair and accessible, and we are taking a number of steps to ensure justice within it. Legal aid is a very important part of that process, and last year we spent almost £900 million on criminal legal aid alone. However, our court system also needs to be modern and up to date, so we are spending £1 billion on technology to bring our court system up to date for the 21st century.

I thank the Minister for her response. The Law Society has highlighted the fact that low criminal legal aid fees are having an adverse impact on the number of new, younger lawyers. Criminal legal aid fees for solicitors have not been increased since the 1990s. Will the Government commit to raising fees for solicitors, at least in line with inflation?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, because those who work within the criminal justice system play a vital part in upholding justice. That is why, over the course of last year, we have consulted the professions and put a further £23 million into the advocates’ graduated fee scheme. It is also why we have recently announced that we will be doing a holistic review of criminal legal aid with regard to the professions, looking overall at a whole range of issues across the Bar and across the duty solicitor schemes. That review has already started.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but there is a crisis in legal aid and in legal representation. The Law Society data says that within five to 10 years there will be insufficient criminal duty solicitors in many regions. She has mentioned the review and mentioned more money, but what specific steps will she take to make sure that people have their right to be represented while being interviewed by the police?

Doing a review and putting in £23 million are specific steps to ensure that we get better justice. I am very grateful to the Law Society, which the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned, because it is actively engaged in our review, as are the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.

It is really good to hear that the Law Society is having such an impact on the Government. However, the Law Society has also published research that shows that the criminal legal aid means test is preventing families living in poverty from accessing justice. Although the Government will eventually review this, the review will not conclude until 2020, and it will be even further down the line when any changes come into place. Will the Minister therefore commit to taking action now to ensure that vulnerable people are still able to access justice?

I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted that we have already committed to doing a review of the threshold for legal aid across the board, not just in relation to criminal law but civil law as well. It is very important that we get that review right. Legal aid has not been uprated for a number of years. We have committed to doing that, but not only that—we have already started the review.