Legal Aid: Birmingham Pub Bombings

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:44 pm on 27th March 2018.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley 4:44 pm, 27th March 2018

I could not agree more. There are probably endless quotes from the bishop who did the inquiry into the Hillsborough situation, and we will almost certainly face the exact same arguments when the Grenfell disaster eventually comes before inquiries, courts and inquests. This is not just about the families in Birmingham; it is about a standard of justice. It is a David and Goliath situation, where David is the one paying for Goliath. That cannot be right, yet these families, having already lost family members, are having to do the heavy lifting for the rest of us to have a better system. For that, on behalf of anybody who has ever gone up against a state actor, we owe a debt of gratitude to families such as the Justice for the 21 families and the Hillsborough families, who are doing this on behalf of all of us to make justice better and fairer.

I worry that the Legal Aid Agency is using its powers to make decisions on whether it grants funding based on the merits of a case, and is deciding that it has authority on those merits. A High Court judge has agreed that the review should take place. It is perfectly reasonable that the coroner feels they have the right to appeal against that decision—that is absolutely fine—but it is not acceptable for the Legal Aid Agency to decide on the merits of that case. Are we saying that in the very complicated hierarchy of justice that these ordinary people have had to learn—they could probably sit legal degrees with ease now, these ordinary people with ordinary jobs, who did not know anything about this—the Legal Aid Agency now sits above a High Court judge in deciding which cases have merit? I hope the Minister can answer that question, because I am confused. She is learned; I am not learned—nobody gets to be learned just from being street smart, unfortunately. If only there was a degree in that.