Tuesday 26 January Hansard records opposition attacks against various measures implemented by MoJ to arrive at savings required as a consequence of austerity.
In response to a question about what steps were being taken to ensure that access to justice does not depend on the ability to pay the Minister for Justice outlined the availability of ACAS early conciliation for the resolution of employment disputes. 83,000 people approached ACAS during the first 12 months of the early conciliation service.
• We provide representation throughout early conciliation for aggrieved employees and accused employers. If the matter cannot be resolved between the parties we will pay the employment tribunal fees and legal costs to negotiate a settlement, or where reasonable prospects of success exist, proceed to a hearing.
The Scottish Parliament has undertaken to repeal employment tribunal fees once tribunal powers are devolved. The Minister was reminded that The Lord Chief Justice, in the last couple of weeks, concluded that " Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most" while the Law Society describes access to justice as being “on the verge of a crisis”. Funding for civil cases has fallen by 62% since civil legal aid was cut.
The Minister promised a full review of the implementation of LASPO but asserted that court fee remissions were available for those having difficulty in attending court.
• Although means-tested court fee remissions may be available legal aid is unlikely to be available for most civil claims. Civil legal aid remains available only where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they face the loss of their home, in cases of domestic violence, or where children might be taken into care.
Debate then moved on to criminal legal aid with the opposition opining that the new criminal legal aid contracts were “making a pig’s ear of access to justice” and should be abandoned. The Minister did not confirm the press reports that he is about to do just that.
The opposition raised fee increases affecting civil litigants of small businesses as a desperate way of carrying on based on hopeless research and went on to criticise the closure of court houses – particularly a premises which had undergone extensive renovation to accommodate both civil and criminal proceedings.
• The Government is currently consulting about closing 91 court houses however final decisions have not yet been made
The Secretary for State for Justice has done a U-turn on the pricing model for criminal legal aid work. Against a background of cost savings elsewhere in the Justice department and faced with 99 legal challenges against the dual pricing model and Judicial review challenging last July’s 8.75% cut to legal aid fees for criminal work Mr Gove has decided not to go ahead with the dual pricing contract and to suspend the 8.75% cut in legal fees until April 2017.