HC Deb 20 November 1995 vol 267 cc330-1
27. Mr. Merchant

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to reform the legal aid system. [513]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor)

The Lord Chancellor published a Green Paper on the future of legal aid in May. More than 180 responses have been received and are being analysed. A series of meetings is being arranged with some of the major respondents to allow them to expand on their views. The Lord Chancellor intends to make an announcement on the outcome of the consultation process in the new year.

Mr. Merchant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware how popular many of the measures outlined in the Green Paper are? Would he be prepared to outline some of the main improvements in the operation of the legal aid system which will flow from the Green Paper and which will be welcomed by the people of this country?

Mr. Taylor

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's typically constructive question. The main features of the Green Paper that commend themselves to me are the expectation of developing franchising, standard fees, a wider range of providers of legal services, targeting legal aid on those whose need is greatest and achieving more control of overall expenditure.

Mrs. Dun woody

Will the Minister consider carefully, however, those cases in which solicitors receive legal aid payments for well over a year, whereas the claimant receives no support and is told simply at a certain point that the case cannot be continued? There is clear evidence that that happens in a number of areas, and it undermines belief in British justice if my constituents are continually given legal aid certificates but are not allowed to pursue their cases.

Mr. Taylor

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, for which I am not completely without sympathy. The sort of difficulty to which she refers has occurred in what are sometimes called multi-party actions. I agree that multi-party actions must be dealt with more efficiently and cost-effectively. The Green Paper suggests that such actions should be funded from a national reserve fund for very high-cost cases. I realise, however, how frustrating it must be for a litigant to be told halfway through the conduct of a case that the balance of advantage between cost and yield does not sustain the case further.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that it sticks in the gullet of most taxpayers that some apparently very wealthy individuals seem to be able to get legal aid? Why should Mr. Ernest Saunders, Lord Brocket and Mr. Roger Levitt receive legal aid when their life styles are the envy of most taxpayers?

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend returns with consistency to this subject. Although I do not normally comment on individual cases, I should tell him that the granting of legal aid to Lord Brocket is a matter for the court hearing the case, and, in the case of Mr. Picarda, is a matter for the Legal Aid Board. My hon. Friend will remember that we issued a consultation document on legal aid for the apparently wealthy. We have received the results of the consultation, we are measuring the various proposals that are in hand and action must and will be taken.

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