The provision of legal aid to support the most vulnerable is an important part of our justice system. We spend £1.6 billion a year on legal aid, which is more than a fifth of the Ministry of Justice’s budget. In terms of accessing legal aid, there is an online tool at gov.uk to help people to check their entitlement to it.
I welcome that answer, but people in my constituency in west Cornwall find it hard to access the legal aid that they are entitled to. In fact, there is only one office there that holds a legal aid contract, and it deals only with family law. Will the Department assess how the changes in legal aid funding have affected rural people, and consider measures to address the shortage?
Maintaining access to justice is extremely important, which is why the Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews the capacity of the legal aid market to cope with demand and takes action when regional shortfalls develop. Those in need of urgent advice in Cornwall and elsewhere can always use the civil legal aid specialist telephone service. In autumn 2017, the Legal Aid Agency began national tendering for new civil contracts to start in autumn 2018.
I have received hundreds of emails from people in my constituency who face eviction, live in overcrowded conditions or rent properties that are in dire need of repair. Does the Minister agree that early legal advice in housing matters needs to be restored urgently, and that it is unacceptable that large parts of the country have no housing legal aid providers at all?
As the hon. Lady will know, the previous Lord Chancellor committed to a review of legal aid later this year, and I also commit to reviewing the situation later this year. Legal aid for housing is always available and can be accessed through the telephone gateway.
Judicial review is a key tool for ordinary people to challenge unjust and unlawful decisions by the state and other public bodies. Deep cuts to legal aid have undermined that ability, so will the Minister commit to reviewing legal aid funding for judicial review in the Government’s forthcoming legal aid review?
As I have already mentioned, a legal aid review is taking place later this year. As a matter of principle, legal aid is available for judicial review in certain circumstances when certain conditions are met.