I beg to move,
That this House
has considered access to justice for vulnerable people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on what is an increasingly critical issue: access to justice, particularly for those who for whatever reason would otherwise be left without legal redress. The Opposition recognise the fundamental importance of legal aid in ensuring that everyone has access to justice. It is a significant time for legal aid, and today marks the inaugural meeting of the Bach commission, led by my colleague Lord Willy Bach and my hon. Friend Karl Turner. The commission has brought together experts from across the legal profession and will explore establishing access to justice as a fundamental public entitlement.
Since 2010 the Government have cut legal aid to the bone. The consensus that once existed around legal aid has been sidelined. Although we recognise the need to make savings, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Committee have all criticised the Government’s failure to understand the knock-on costs and wider consequences of their reforms. The Labour party recognises the importance of legal aid in making sure the state does not infringe upon the liberty of its citizens, and we understand its crucial role as a tool for legal redress in family disputes. Those who traditionally benefit from legal aid—the poor and most vulnerable—have been marginalised by the policies of this Government. They have seen the erosion of their rights at work, in schools, and in their housing and welfare needs. In 2010, as Labour left office, almost 500,000 cases received advice or assistance for social welfare issues. The year after the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force, it was less than 53,000.