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House of Commons Hansard
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26 November 2009
Volume 501

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15. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her policy on raising awareness of pro bono work. [301680]

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Our eighth national pro bono week, which is dedicated to raising awareness of pro bono work, took place two weeks ago. The number of activities increased to 128 from 82 a year before. The Attorney-General and I hold a pro bono reception to showcase such work to MPs, and we have introduced a guide to pro bono, which we have distributed to every MP. That guide informs MPs about sources of pro bono work in their constituencies, so that, if they cannot handle a problem, they can contact a lawyer who can help.

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As Members of Parliament, we have constituents who come to our surgeries with legal problems, and we try to get them legal aid and access to pro bono, which is not easy. Why has access to justice become so expensive under Labour?

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I do not think that it has. I receive the same sort of inquiries, and I can usually find a local lawyer to help if I cannot deal with the matter myself. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the guide to pro bono, he will find many networks that have local membership. Therefore, people can get something pretty close to their needs pretty quickly.

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As the processes of the Infrastructure Planning Commission get under way, has my hon. and learned Friend had discussions with the Department for Communities and Local Government about ensuring that individuals and communities have access to proper legal advice?

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I have not had such discussions, but I understand the nature of the issue. From general knowledge, I am aware that some bodies help with planning applications, so I am sure that citizens will be able to find assistance if they want to be represented.

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Does the Solicitor-General accept that de facto pro bono work has increased substantially as a result of the Government’s restrictions on the level of legal aid fees available to members of the Bar?

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No, the number of acts of legal assistance has increased significantly through the reorganisation of the legal aid system. For instance, there were 2.5 million acts of assistance in the last year but one, and 2.9 million this year, and they have increased in both the civil and criminal areas. Pro bono is in addition to all the work done under legal aid, and it is an important part of a lawyer’s experience and training. As with most volunteering, it is good not just for the recipient but for the person who does it.