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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012: Review

Volume 793: debated on Monday 12 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to complete and report on their review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as the police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to publishing the findings of the post-implementation review of LASPO by the end of the year. The evidence-gathering phase of the review concluded in September and we are considering the evidence submitted. During that phase we engaged more than 70 organisations. This review process also represents an opportunity for the Government to consider what the future of legal support should look like.

I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply and commend those in the Ministry of Justice who are carrying out the review for their courtesy and willingness to meet with all interested parties. I thank Lucy Frazer MP personally for meeting with me and members of the Bach Commission, which proposed some sensible changes that the Government could make very quickly. Is the Minister aware that there is a broad consensus among senior judges, practising lawyers, parliamentarians of all colours and none, and many others, that Part 1 of LASPO was a serious mistake that has led to many of our fellow citizens being deprived of access to justice—and if people cannot access justice, why should they in the long run consent to live under the rule of law?

My Lords, we are conscious of the importance of access to justice. I thank the noble Lord and those who sat with him on his commission for their contribution to the debate, but I will not anticipate the outcome of a review that will be published by the end of the year.

My Lords, I no longer practise at the criminal Bar, so I have no present interests to declare—but I know very many people who do, and I can tell my noble and learned friend that there is a real sense of crisis in the criminal Bar. Does my noble and learned friend accept that unless the Government urgently and fully address the anxieties expressed by the Criminal Bar Association—of which I was a member—and articulated fully in the book The Secret Barrister, there is a real danger that the independent criminal Bar will cease to exist, which would be a very great loss to the administration of justice in this country?

My Lords, of course we have the highest regard for the independent criminal Bar and are concerned to ensure that it is sustained in a suitable way—but, again, I will not anticipate the outcome of the present review.

My Lords, nobody is asking the noble and learned Lord to anticipate the review. This is an internal MoJ review, which many regret. However, since it is an internal review, have Ministers told officials conducting it how much could be available to boost the resources for legal aid in view of the mistakes that have been widely acknowledged and, in particular, how much they would be able to spend of the estimated extra savings from LASPO over and above what the Government predicted—currently estimated at about £500 million a year? I asked a similar question on 19 April. May we now have a reply?

My Lords, I say again that I am not going to anticipate the outcome of a review that is due to be published before the end of this year.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that justice delayed is justice denied? Does he also accept that, following the Chancellor’s Budget Statement, we are looking at the prospect of justice indefinitely denied, with further real-terms cuts to the already ravaged budget of the Ministry of Justice, continued gross underfunding of the courts and—the most flagrant systemic injustice—the continuation of the Government’s scorched-earth policy on legal aid?

My Lords, we face economic challenges. I remind the noble Lord opposite that it was the last Labour Prime Minister who announced the end of boom and bust. He did so without consulting either the markets or even the Delphic oracle. One Labour Minister pithily observed as he left government that,

“there is no money left”.

The coalition Government had to pick up the pieces of an economy blown to pieces by the last Labour Government and we have been putting it back together. We are doing so responsibly. We are not the cause; we are the cure.

My Lords, just three years ago we came together in this country with representatives from the common-law world and the Royal Family to mark Magna Carta and celebrate the rule of law. However, in family law, does the Minister realise that husbands and wives are going to court with one often having legal representation and the other, usually the wife, not, and that judges have to spend their time carrying out the job that barristers should be doing because they cannot be afforded? Is this not an injustice to women? Does he further realise that altruistic, young would-be barristers are being put off going into criminal and family law because they are unable to earn a living, which is destroying social mobility and the rule of law?

My Lords, there are challenges facing those who seek to deliver legal services in our country today. We are conscious of that, which is why the review of LASPO has been undertaken. In the context of matrimonial matters, I observe that we have at least introduced a digital portal for undefended divorces, which has been a considerable success. In addition, we have seen a very significant increase in the provision of legal aid in cases involving domestic violence.

My Lords, Part 1 of LASPO, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, covers third-party funding by the state. But there is another source of third-party funding: that is, those who invest in litigation, which is a growing field. It used to be unlawful. Many are concerned that it distorts the whole business of litigation. Can my noble and learned friend the Minister tell me whether this is a matter for consideration, either in this report or generally by the Ministry of Justice, and whether there is not room for more regulation of this area?

My Lords, the matter of third-party funding has now become well established and makes a contribution to the delivery of legal services in this country, but it is a matter that is the subject of consideration as we go forward. I cannot say that it is directly addressed in the context of the LASPO review that is to be published by the end of the year.