Our criminal justice and early advice campaigns were raised with the lord chancellor and his ministerial team during justice oral questions in the House of Commons on 23 April 2019.
We have summarised the session below:
Virendra Sharma MP(Labour) asked about access to the criminal justice system.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that legal aid is an important part of ensuring access to justice, and that the government is investing £1bn to modernise the court system.
Virendra Sharma MP noted the Law Society’s concerns regarding criminal legal aid fees for solicitors and the impact on young lawyers. He asked for a rise in line with inflation for fees.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that criminal lawyers play a vital role in our justice system. The government are reviewing criminal legal aid fees.
Teresa Pearce MP (Labour) said there is a crisis in legal aid and quoted Law Society data on the number of criminal duty solicitors. She asked what specific steps are being taken by the minister to address this crisis.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that the government is undertaking a review of criminal legal aid fees, and that the Law Society are actively engaged in the review.
- Following these questions Janet Daby MP (Labour) said it is good that the Law Society is having such an impact on the government. She noted that the Law Society have published research which shows that the criminal legal aid means test is preventing vulnerable people from access to justice, and while there is a review taking place this is not likely to report until 2020 and it will be further down the line when any changes take place.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP noted that the government have launched a review of the legal aid means test and said that it is important that the government look closely as part of that review.
Early advice and legal aid deserts
Paul Blomfield MP (Labour) asked about the number of people able to access early legal advice for welfare benefits.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that in the most recent tender by the Legal Aid Agency the number of providers for welfare benefits increased 188%. In the LASPO review the government committed to early legal support pilots in a range of areas of law. She called on decisions by government departments and agencies to be made right the first time round.
Paul Blomfield MP said that the number of people receiving legal aid for these claims has fallen.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that support is available through legal aid and elsewhere for welfare claimants. The government is exploring early advice through its pilots.
Stephen Morgan MP (Labour) highlighted the number of people living in areas with no legal aid provision for housing. He argued that only rogue landlords benefit from this situation.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that advice is always available on the telephone gateway and that as of the 31 March 2019 there was housing provision in all but 5 legal aid procurement areas.
Bambos Charalambous MP (Labour) asked about the number of people able to access early advice for housing cases.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP noted where legal aid is available in housing cases and said that early support may be helpful and noted the piloting of advice.
Bambos Charalambous MP asked why the government have not committed to restoring housing, welfare and family early legal advice despite evidence that shows it would save the Government money.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that the government areexploring how early legal support is provided.
Jim Cunningham MP (Labour) asked about providing those in need of advice now rather than waiting for the outcome of a review.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that the government want to make sure people know when they can claim for legal aid.
Courts and access to justice
Kate Green MP (Labour) asked about court delays in criminal cases and the impact on access to justice.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said that unnecessary delays can cause stress. She noted the attorney general’s work on disclosure, and she said the government are working to reduce delays in courts.
Kate Green MP noted the Law Society’s work on disclosure and asked about the Law Society’s recommendation on different processes for disclosure in the Magistrates Court and Crown Court.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP responded by acknowledging further the work of the Attorney General on disclosure.
Shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi MP asked about private companies operating in the courts system.
Responding, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said the government are investing £1bn to modernise the courts and tribunals system, and that there are times where it is appropriate to use consultants.