Access to Legal Advice

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 9 January 2024.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

What steps he is taking to increase early access to legal advice.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Last year we spent £1 billion on civil legal aid to support the most vulnerable, and we recognise the potential benefits of early legal advice in supporting people to resolve their problems earlier. For example, last year we launched a £10 million housing loss prevention advice service. We invested in advice for welfare benefits issues, and early legal advice is also available for victims of domestic abuse in private family law proceedings, subject to the relevant means and evidence requirements. We will continue to invest in legal aid where we can see a benefit.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I thank the Minister for that response. Like many Members across this House, I regularly have constituents coming to me with many legal issues needing legal advice and support. Obviously, many Members are not appropriately qualified to offer that legal advice and support. Citizens Advice in Stoke-on-Trent are doing an excellent job trying to support many of my constituents with legal issues, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that members of the public get timely and affordable legal advice when they need it?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advice, and as I said in my original answer, we agree that investing has benefits. That is why, since 2015, we have invested more than £25 million to support litigants in person, including our current grant funding of around £10.4 million for improving outcomes to legal support grants. That is supporting 59 organisations across England and Wales, enabling them to provide urgent legal support and advice to help people resolve their legal problems. That is in addition to the investment in providing support on domestic violence, special guardianship orders, housing loss prevention and immigration.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

In its Green Paper published in October 2023, the Law Society set out reforms to legal aid to help more people get early advice. Can the Justice Secretary confirm what discussions he has had with the Treasury, in advance of the Budget in March, regarding potential increases to the legal aid budget, and that Scotland will receive its share through Barnett consequentials?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I can confirm that, following the Bellamy report and the implementation of what is known as CLAIR—the criminal legal aid independent review—we have invested over £141 million extra in the legal aid system, addressing many of the concerns that legal practitioners, including the Law Society, have raised. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I am in constant dialogue with the Law Society on how we can improve legal advice for citizens.