[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair] — Access to Justice: Vulnerable People

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:49 am on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 9:49 am, 19th January 2016

We will come to the amount of money we spend on legal aid, although I note that I have certainly got this debate going, so I guess we should at least be grateful for that—as I said, I did not intend to speak today.

A point has been made about the fact that we spend a large amount of money on legal aid compared with other countries such as Germany and France, which, as far as I am aware, do not have legal systems that are not fit for purpose. They have non-adversarial legal systems, which are different from ours, so they may be different in other areas. Despite the fact that we spend many billions of pounds on our legal system, that our spending on legal aid per capita is much higher than other countries—even those with adversarial systems, such as New Zealand—and that people work in good faith at the Bar, the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service and elsewhere, there is a structural issue with our legal system, and we need to look at it. Perhaps we should look at whether the Bar should be independent and at whether more barristers should be employed. Perhaps the shadow Minister will come forward with that proposal. It is not reasonable to say that the Government have no role in curtailing the amount of expenditure on that area, although we must be fair to all who are involved.

The hon. Member for Aberavon briefly mentioned judicial review, at which a number of the changes were aimed. The number of judicial reviews has increased by a factor of something like four in the past eight years. Such numbers are very significant, and it is reasonable that the Government look at them. I am not in the Government, and I do not know whether they have got it right in all cases. That is why I was so keen to get an answer from the shadow Minister to my question about which of the changes to legal aid he agrees with. I am sure we will hear from him about that.

It is wrong to say that Government Members are not as concerned about access to justice and vulnerable people as Opposition Members, but questions need to be asked about the structure of the legal system and about how things work at the moment. The rate of increase that we saw before 2010 would have been untenable if it had continued at that level, as the then Labour Government recognised.