HC Deb 06 December 1954 vol 535 cc588-90
24. Brigadier Medlicott

asked the Attorney-General whether he has any statement to make regarding the extension of legal aid to the county courts.

26 Mr. Janner

asked the Attorney General (1) whether he will now say what steps he proposes to take to give those who cannot afford to pay for legal advice or take or defend proceedings in county courts or police courts, legal assistance under the Legal Aid and Advice Act;

(2) whether he is aware that, under the provisions of the Housing Repairs and Rents Acts, tenants whose rent is being subsidised by the National Assistance Board are unable to afford legal aid or advice, and that any increases agreed to by them in consequence becomes payable by the National Assistance Board; and whether he will remedy this anomaly by affording legal assistance in such cases;

(3) when the legislation for increasing the jurisdiction of the county courts in England and Wales is to be introduced; and what steps he is taking to give legal assistance to litigants whose cases will be brought within the province of such jurisdiction.

29. Sir L. Heald

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that the declared intention of Her Majesty's Government to extend the jurisdiction of the county courts makes it urgently necessary to consider further implementation of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949; and if he will make a statement on this matter.

The Attorney-General

Yes, Sir. As the Gracious Speech from the Throne indicated, it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to extend county court jurisdiction, but I am not yet in a position to say when that will be. The Government consider that if the jurisdiction of the county court is to be increased, legal aid should be made available for all types of county court proceedings which are covered by the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, and in due course my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will make the appropriate order under the Act for this purpose. The Government cannot see their way at present to any further extension of the Act beyond what I have already indicated.

Mr. Janner

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman in anticipation of what might come, may I ask what he is prepared to do at present, when so many cases are coming before the county courts in respect of the Acts which are already in existence and when litigants are finding it impossible to carry on? Does he realise that it is just impossible for many hundreds and possibly thousands of people who are suffering under disabilities in this regard to carry their cases into the county courts? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not given a comprehensive answer. Will he be good enough to say what he proposes to do with regard to police and magistrates' courts?

The Attorney-General

I think that I gave a very comprehensive answer which covers a comprehensive supplementary question.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will the Attorney-General say to what extent the jurisdiction of the county courts will be increased; so that litigants can know where they stand and where to bring their cases?

The Attorney-General

I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to await the publication of the Bill.

Mr. Janner

In view of that most unsatisfactory answer, I beg to give notice that I propose to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.