Newly appointed justice minister Simon Hughes has raised the possibility of funding people from poorer backgrounds to enter the legal profession.

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday published yesterday, Hughes challenged law firms to 'proactively go out and look for people from all communities'.

He said he would meet leaders of the profession to draw up plans to make it more representative and, according to the newspaper, said the government could back the ambitions of future lawyers with cash. 'It may be there’s an additional bit of financial help you need to give to encourage people from poor backgrounds to come into the legal profession at the bottom end.'

On his suitability for the post, given his previous opposition to justice secretary Chris Grayling's position on legal aid and the European Court of Human Rights, Hughes said the Ministry of Justice was 'natural territory' for him. While he and and the lord chancellor 'don’t come from the same place', he said they have a shared commitment to improving the performance of the justice system.

The interview also highlighted Hughes' concerns at the high number of female offenders imprisoned. He promised a renewed drive to improve the quality of education and training behind bars, and said he is open to the possibility of issuing new sentencing guidelines to courts to guarantee women are jailed only as a last resort.