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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 10:30 am, 19th January 2016

Perhaps the hon. Lady missed the point when I said that we have one of the largest legal aid budgets in the world, at £1.6 billion. I would say that that is capable of buying a substantial amount of legal aid assistance and advocacy for people. I go back to the comment from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East about the importance of looking at matters in the round, from a broader perspective.

Much has been said about employment tribunal fees and the fact that people are not using employment tribunals any more. There should be some recognition of the ACAS early conciliation process, which did not exist before but has dealt with some 83,000 cases in the 12 months since it was introduced. There should also be some recognition of the fact that the economy is improving, and that more jobs are being created out there. It is always the case, looking back at the trend of such things, that there is less demand for employment tribunals when the economy is improving. People should not overlook the fact that more than 80,000 cases have been dealt with by ACAS’s early conciliation process. Furthermore, looking at matters in the round, let us not forget that this Government are committed to spending some £700 million on reforming the courts system, which means there will be a better way of accessing justice than exists at the moment.

Coming back to the words in the title of this debate, we very much hope that the reforms will particularly assist vulnerable people, including victims, witnesses and others. The reforms will mean, for example, that those people do not have to attend a court to give evidence, but can instead go to a convenient location close to them and give evidence by video conferencing. We will also make more use of modern technology in a broader perspective. We already have prisoners giving evidence from prisons, which avoids getting caught up in traffic jams and all the additional security costs that taking them to court would entail.