A justice minister has revealed that she has laid down the law to her government colleagues and urged them to stop placing extra pressure on the justice system. Speaking at a fringe conference event organised by the Society of Conservative Lawyers and Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP hinted that the mistakes of others in the Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions were being absorbed by the courts.
She revealed that she held inter-departmental talks last week to press home the importance of other departments getting their decisions right and not leaving themselves open to challenge.
'We took the decision in 2012 [legal aid] would be spent on people who are the most vulnerable,’ said Frazer. 'Where there is no legal aid, all parties have an obligation to ensure the presentation of all the facts. Other government departments have a role and an obligation to ensure that. Those who are in the courts system are often other government departments.’
Recent statistics suggest the number of challenges to decisions by the Home Office and DWP have increasingly significantly. Earlier this week, the Independent reported hat UK immigration appeals now take on average 52 weeks to be processed, compared with 31 weeks in 2016. The increase was due to a backlog of cases, and the paper said half of appeals finally processed were successful. In June, the Mirror reported that 14,805 people had their assessment for personal independence payment (PIP) quashed by a tribunal in the first three months of this year – 71% of the total appeals.
Frazer said to the fringe event: 'It is really important that a number of departments work to ensure they get the decision right first time [and not] end up in court.’
Frazer's suggestion that Whitehall is at least partly responsible for the growth in public law challenges is a change in tone from some of her predecessors, who put the blame on the legal profession. However cynics will suggest the Ministry of Justice’s plea to other departments suggests there will be little restoration of legal aid for such cases following the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act at the end of this year.
There was no indication from Frazer or her boss, justice secretary David Gauke, who spoke at an event for Conservative lawyers on Monday, that extra funding would be made available.
Speaking after the conference, Sean Humber, partner and head of human rights department at national firm Leigh Day, said the government can do more to prevent prisoner discrimination and human rights breach claims.
Humber added: 'All too often, these stagger on to the doors of the court before settling because, despite government lawyers advising settlement many weeks and months earlier, there is a difficulty in getting sign off from the particular minister or department.'