MPs have called for a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).
During a session in the House of Commons last week, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Shailesh Vara fielded questions about the impact of LASPO, especially in family law cases.
Labour MPs Ian Lucas and Susan Jones asked about the number of people representing themselves in court – litigants in person – since the introduction of LASPO. Lucas said that Vara was “alone in thinking there is no crisis because of the increase in the number of litigants in person”. Lucas, MP for Wrexham, suggested an anonymous survey of judges and court clerks to determine the extent of the problem.
Jones, meanwhile, called for the government’s planned 2017 review of the legal aid laws to be moved forward, in light of the increase in litigants in person. She claimed that such a review was “sorely needed”.
Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East Karl Turner later announced that “at least one party was not represented in 76 per cent of private family cases” in the first quarter of the year. He added that the Master of the Rolls – the third most senior judge in England and Wales – had warned of “significant impacts” to the civil courts as a result of an increase of litigants in person
Turner called LASPO “an unmitigated disaster” and joined Susan Jones in her call for an earlier review of the legislation so that the Justice Secretary could address “the shambles of his predecessors”.
In response, Vara claimed that “the concept of litigants in person is not new: it has applied for many years, indeed decades”. He said that the government had introduced online help for people who represent themselves in order to “ensure as much support from the judiciary and other legal advisers as possible”.
Citing a Law Society Gazette report on Labour MP Andy Slaughter, he claimed that even the opposition admits that the government “would have been forced to make cuts to family law funding and promote mediation as a cheaper option” regardless of which party was in power.
Later on, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams questioned Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice Caroline Dinenage about legal aid. She said the government had previously stated that relatives of benefit claimants who die can seek redress in the courts. However, she asked, as legal aid has been cut by 80 per cent “how exactly are they meant to do that?”
The under-secretary refused to “go into details of such cases for reasons of confidentiality” but claimed that despite the cuts, England still had “one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world”.
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