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Legal Aid

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2023

We have launched the early legal advice pilot; we have invested in domestic abuse legal aid; we have invested money for housing reform and immigration legal aid; and legal aid spending is £1.2 billion per annum. The Government have a record of delivery on legal aid, investing in key areas, unblocking access and ensuring that money is well spent to protect those who need access to justice.

With the number of civil legal aid providers falling from more than 2,100 to fewer than 1,400 in the past 10 years and with areas such as the south Wales valleys, including my Cynon Valley constituency, becoming legal aid deserts, what assurances can the Minister provide that he will not allow further closures of legal aid providers before the review of civil legal aid concludes?

In fact, since the new standard contract was introduced in October, we have seen an increase in duty solicitors and firms taking on legal aid. We have restored some stability to the system. I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns, but I can tell her that the Legal Aid Agency monitors the issue of what are known as deserts closely to ensure that no part of the country is left uncovered.

The Government have repeatedly made political choices that have left our criminal justice system on its knees. They have recently found additional money to ensure that defence and prosecution barristers are given the 15% increase in line with the Bellamy review recommendation, but solicitors have been given only a 9% increase. That unequal decision puts at risk access to justice for victims, with more than 1,000 duty solicitors quitting in the last five years. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to funding all of Bellamy’s recommendations and put solicitors on the same footing?

The uplift for solicitors and barristers has already started to be paid. The hon. Gentleman mentions duty solicitors and, as I have said, since the new contract has been in place, we have started to see an increase in the number of people taking on those roles and in firms taking on legal aid, so we are seeing the benefits of the investment in both the litigators’ graduated fee scheme and the advocates’ graduated fee scheme.

On the general investment in legal aid, I am aware of the concerns of the Law Society, with which I am having constructive discussions to try to find a way forward.