Throughout the development of the “Transforming Legal Aid” package of reform, my officials and I regularly met the Law Society, the Bar Council and other members of the legal profession. Officials from the Department and the Legal Aid Agency continue to be in regular contact with the representative bodies as we implement the reforms.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that I represent a number of constituents involved with family law cases, including one young mother who is contesting adoption proceedings? She received legal aid for the substantive hearing, but she is now appealing and, unfortunately, cannot get legal aid. Has he made any assessment of the impact of the cost in respect of litigants in person within the family division? Without increasing the overall legal aid budget, will he consider some reallocation of resources within it to solve this particular problem?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and say to him that we do have one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world and we have made sure that we provide legal aid assistance for those who need it.
We have paid particular attention to those who have been victims of domestic violence and we are very keen that, wherever possible, we will give legal aid to make sure that people get out of the abusive relationships in which they are caught.
What I will tell the hon. Gentleman is that this issue has been the subject of a huge amount of misunderstanding among the wider public, not least because of the misinformation imparted by people such as himself. On two occasions we have increased the criteria on the required evidence, once during the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and subsequently when we found that more evidence was required.