HC Deb 06 February 1956 vol 548 cc1314-7
1. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Attorney-General if he will review, with a view to reduction, the contributions now being exacted from persons who are granted certificates for legal aid.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)


Mr. Fletcher

Does not the Attorney-General realise that, as these regulations stand, a great number of cases of hardship arise, instances of which I have sent him? Would he not reconsider this matter with a view to reducing the rates of contribution, particularly now that legal aid is obtainable in the county courts?

The Attorney-General

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Advisory Committee recommended that the public money available should go first towards extending the scheme to parts of the Act not yet in force rather than to amending the parts that are already in operation.

2. Mr. Black

asked the Attorney-General whether he has considered the observations made by Mr. Justice Roxburgh in the recent case of South versus Wembley Stadium Limited, and others; and what action he proposes to take to avoid further waste of public money in the legal aid scheme and to obviate the hardship imposed upon defendants by reason of the heavy legal costs they may have to incur in defending such proceedings.

4. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Attorney-General if his attention has been drawn to the continuing injustice suffered by persons and companies who successfully defend proceedings brought against them under the legal aid scheme, but who are deprived of the normal opportunity of recovering costs from the plaintiff; and what steps are being taken to bring this state of affairs to an end.

The Attorney-General

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and I have made a very careful examination of the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) refers. It is not possible to ensure that all legally aided cases will succeed, and poor persons would not avail themselves of the legal aid scheme if it did not give them some protection from the normal consequences of losing a case. The Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, therefore provides that in that event an assisted persons' liability for the costs of the other side shall be limited to what the court considers to be reasonable in all the circumstances. This inevitably results in some cases in which unassisted persons are put to considerable expense which they cannot recover. This aspect of the scheme is receiving careful study by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and myself, but none of the remedies so far suggested has commended itself to us.

Mr. Black

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the learned judge who tried this particular case described it as a "rather shocking case" and went on to say that the plaintiff had no reasonable grounds for bringing the case, and is he also aware that the public is very disquieted by the waste of public money which is involved in cases of this kind?

The Attorney-General

The learned judge had the advantage of hearing both sides. I would not myself say that the grant of the legal aid certificate was wrong on the information then available to the Legal Aid Committee.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is by no means the first case of its kind in which very severe comments have been made by Her Majesty's judges, and that this scheme, though excellent in many respects, has removed one type of injustice at the expense of creating another, and would he continue to try to find ways and means to remedy what are undoubtedly very serious injustices?

The Attorney-General

I should be optimistic if I thought that this was the last legal aid case on which there would be comment. I would point out that it is not always the case that a successful defendant can recover costs from an unaided plaintiff, and, as I have said in answer to this Question, this particular problem is receiving the consideration of my noble Friend and myself. It is a problem which was much canvassed during the passage of the Legal Aid and Advice Act in Committee and to which none of us, try as one would, could then find a satisfactory solution.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

Would the Attorney-General agree that this case, as the learned judge indicated, was perfectly honestly brought, that the legal aid cases have resulted in justice being done to a large number of poor people who otherwise could not have paid for justice, and that the proposal suggested in these two Questions was canvassed not only in Committee in this House on two occasions in considerable detail, but also by the Rushcliffe Committee, and the decision in this House and of the Rushcliffe Committee was against the sense in which these Questions have been put?

The Attorney-General

I was a member of the Rushcliffe Committee and I know how difficult this problem is. As to the rest of the question which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put to me, my answer is "Yes."

3. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Attorney-General if he will now state when Her Majesty's Government intend to bring into operation the legal advice scheme under the Legal Aid and Advice Act.

The Attorney-General

I am not in a position to say when it will be possible to introduce the legal advice scheme.

Mr. Fletcher

Would not the Attorney-General agree that now that legal aid is obtainable in the county courts it is more necessary than ever that the legal advice part of the Act should be brought into operation?

The Attorney-General

I am not altogether sure about that.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Would not the Attorney-General agree that until some such scheme as this is put into operation, the principle of the rule of law cannot be fully said to be effective here?

The Attorney-General

That opens a wide generality to which I am not at this moment prepared to assent.