The shadow justice secretary has accused ministers of avoiding answering his parliamentary questions on the growth of litigants in person in court.
Sadiq Khan MP this morning asked 43,300 followers on Twitter whether the government had something to hide.
Khan originally tabled a written parliamentary question on 21 October asking how many cases were dealt with by the courts involving a party for whom there was no legal representations on the court record in each year since 2010.
Justice minister Simon Hughes responded on 24 October to say it had not been possible to answer the question within the timeframe as the information was being assembled from a variety of sources.
Khan tabled a follow-up question on 28 November. On 3 December, he was promised a substantial response in the new year. He has yet to receive an answer.
The Ministry of Justice told the Gazette it was seeking to compile more detailed statistics for cases involving LiPs in all the courts to add to information currently only available for family court cases.
A spokesperson said: ‘Rather than provide the MP with an answer saying much of the data was unavailable, we are instead carrying out work to see if we are able to provide further information, and hope to be able to provide this shortly.’
In a letter to courts minister Shailesh Vara dated 26 January, Khan said it was unacceptable to have to wait 13 weeks for an answer to a parliamentary question.
Khan said the response was crucial due to the ‘widely held concern’ at the growth of litigants in person ‘clogging up our courts’.
‘Given the sensitive nature of the subject matter, I can’t help but think there is a deliberate attempt to deprive me of data for which I am entitled as a member of parliament,’ he said. ‘The public have a right to know whether the government’s cuts to legal aid have resulted in serious ramifications for the running of courts services and the delivery of justice.’
In October the MoJ announced further support for separating parents and court users in civil and family courts, including improved online information and an MoJ-funded strategy to increase legal and practical support for LiPs.
‘Ministers are not complacent,’ the spokesperson said. ‘We will continue to monitor the impact of legal aid reforms and explore ways of improving and enhancing the data collected on hearing duration.’
Figures published by the ministry in November showed that the mean duration per hearing in private law cases after 2013 was 74 minutes – just a minute longer than the mean recorded before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) was implemented.
In cases where neither party was represented, hearing times fell by six minutes post-LASPO, from 69 minutes to 63 minutes. Where both parties were represented, hearing times went up by 10 minutes post-LASPO, from 79 minutes to 89 minutes.
However, the MoJ emphasised there were a number of caveats with the main finding, the most important of which was that data was based on ‘estimated rather than actual’ hearing durations.
Meanwhile, the proportion of private family law cases in which both parties were represented has almost halved since the legal aid reforms were introduced. Figures show that from July to September last year, both parties were represented in 24% of cases.
During the same period in 2012, the proportion was 47%.