HC Deb 17 January 1983 vol 35 cc16-7
24. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied with the working of the legal aid scheme.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

The Lord Chancellor is continually taking steps to improve the working of the three schemes for which he is responsible.

Mr. Dubs

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the discrepancies in granting legal aid to defendants charged with indictable offences in magistrates' courts? Is he further aware that the discrepancies may be two or three times greater in one court than in another? Will he suggest ways in which such unfairness to defendents can be dealt with, possibly by a system of appeal against refusal to grant legal aid?

The Solicitor-General

The Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I are aware of that problem, and share the hon. Gentleman's concern. The Lord Chancellor is anxious to promote consistency of approach towards legal aid in magistrates' courts. To that end he is pursuing two separate lines of action. His officials recently carried out a survey of about 60 courts and the information ascertained is being analysed. In addition, the power included in the Legal Aid Act 1982 to introduce a power of recourse after a refusal is under active consideration. There are several alternatives. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a final decision will not be long delayed, but will not be taken before consultation is complete.

Mr. Stokes

Is not the legal aid scheme vastly expensive, and becoming more so every day? Is it not liable to abuse? Will my right hon. and learned Friend order a thorough inquiry into the whole scheme?

The Solicitor-General

I can put my hon. Friend's concern at rest. The main purpose of the 1982 Act was to ensure more economy, better contributions where they could be afforded and generally to seek more consistency and less abuse.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Will the Solicitor-General urge the magistrates' courts rules committee to go ahead with drawing up appropriate rules so that the provision of legal aid for parents in care proceedings—which was announced by the Lord Chancellor in July last year—can be put into effect as soon as possible?

The Solicitor-General

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that that matter is also the subject of active consideration. We must get it right before regulations are made, but preparations have reached an advanced stage.