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Review of Legal Aid Reforms

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

Yesterday, we laid a written ministerial statement before the House setting out the details of the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and publishing the post-legislative memorandum, which discharges the promise made by previous Ministers to this House. I expect the review to be completed by the summer of 2018.

I thank the Minister for his response about progress on the review of legal aid reforms, but it is disappointing that, even though the Government first announced this review nine months ago, it still will not conclude for another nine months, which is nine more months of many thousands of people not being able to afford to access our justice system. His Government’s reforms of legal aid were intended to save £350 million. In fact, legal aid has fallen by double that. Will the Minister lobby his colleague the Chancellor, so that some of those additional savings go immediately to help those who have been priced out of access to our justice system?

I thought the hon. Gentleman might at least welcome the fact that we laid out the terms of the review yesterday. I am not sure whether he has had a chance to study the post-legislative memorandum. Let us be clear about one thing: last year, we spent £1.6 billion on legal aid in England and Wales, which is a quarter of the Ministry of Justice’s budget. International comparisons are not exact, but according to the Council of Europe’s review last year, the UK spent more per capita than any other Council of Europe member.

In looking at the effect of the reduction in legal aid on access to justice, will the Minister also comment on the impact on access to justice of the closure of magistrates courts. The closure of Kendal court this summer has removed easy access to justice for hundreds of people, increasing pressure on the police, legal professionals and local families. What will he do to restore such physical access to justice?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern if the court estate is situated in his constituency, but we have a £1 billion court reform programme, which is investing in updating, modernising and introducing technology. As a result, we will actually deliver more sensitive justice for victims and witnesses, but also a better bang for the taxpayer’s buck.

18. Wales has seen one of the largest drops in legal aid providers, at 29%, particularly with regard to housing. Will the Government’s belated review of their deep cuts in legal aid look specifically at the impact of this? (901530)

The terms of reference have been set out very clearly. The post-legislative memorandum is wide in scope, and the hon. Lady should feel free to submit any particular points that she wants us to consider. I am obviously not going to pre-empt or prejudice the scope of the review that we have just undertaken.

Has my hon. Friend seen any evidence that reductions in legal aid have reduced the cost of litigation in this country? If not, will he look into why the market is not working properly?

A good many of those issues will be examined by the review. If my hon. Friend would like to write to me with any concerns he has, I would be very happy to look at them.

Twenty months ago, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s restrictions on legal aid for victims of domestic violence were unlawful. Nine months ago, Ministers told the House that they would make changes by secondary legislation that would

“make it easier for victims of domestic violence to access legal aid.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 983.]

Nothing has happened. Victims cannot wait another nine months, so when will the secondary legislation be brought forward?

The hon. Lady is right that it is vital to ensure that legal aid is available to victims in circumstances of domestic violence. Of course, it was granted in more than 12,000 cases last year. We have reviewed the evidence requirements again and are committed to making it easier for victims to access legal aid. I will announce the details shortly.