The government has hinted it may be prepared to bring forward the long-called-for review of legal aid reforms. The Ministry of Justice is required to look at the operation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act within three to five years of implementation. That gives ministers until April 2018 to carry it out.
A host of individuals and organisations, including the Law Society, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and charity Amnesty International, have backed calls for an early review. Problems arising from the the act, which limited the scope of civil legal aid, have included increasing numbers of litigants in person and fears the exceptional case funding scheme is not working as expected.
During justice questions in the House of Commons, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the government should respond to demands to begin the review.
In response, justice secretary Liz Truss said: ‘We have already announced a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – we will shortly be announcing the timetable – but we need a system that is both open and affordable, which is exactly what the government are delivering.’
If that offered a hint of action, there was little to update on the government’s ongoing – and one-year overdue – review of the effect of employment tribunal fees.
Bradford East MP Imran Hussain had called for a firm date for the review’s completion and publication and added that he wanted the fees scrapped.
Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald replied: ‘Government members think it only fair that those who can afford to should make a contribution to a service that costs hard-working taxpayers £66m a year.
‘We are reviewing the situation - we are doing a careful job, because this is an important issue - and we will publish the outcome in due course.’
In a written response yesterday to a question from Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, Heald revealed net income from employment tribunals was around £4m for the first half of this year.
He added: ‘It cannot be right that hardworking taxpayers should pick up the entire bill for employment disputes in tribunals and it is only fair that those who can afford to do so should make some contribution to the cost of the service.’