Since access to legal aid was restricted in 2013 there has been a dramatic increase of litigants in person – people who represent themselves in court. Litigants in person often struggle to understand court procedures and their legal entitlements, and cases involving them take longer to resolve. This increases the risk of unjust outcomes for the litigant, and is also a huge burden on court finances and resources – and ultimately the public purse.
The Government has finally bowed to pressure from victims, campaigners and Labour MPs to agree to hold a review of the family courts following troubling cases where victims of domestic violence and their children have been left at risk of violence.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has published work which shows that, as a result of cuts to Legal Aid, children have been forced to either become litigants in person, obtain advice and support pro bono or from the already stretched voluntary sector, or give up attempting to resolve their legal problems at all.
It is right that this review has been established by the new Minister, but we must ensure that children and vulnerable people are at the forefront of our minds when we implement changes to the legal system. The cuts to legal aid have undermined this principle and it is high time that the UK Government took meaningful action.
If we crash out of the EU without a deal we will lose all 26 agreements we currently have in place to allow the transfer of prisoners. I asked the Minister of State what progress has been made to make sure that we keep these transfer agreements.
The Minister agreed with me that a no deal Brexit would see us lose these agreements and move back to an old system where transfer of prisoners would be far slower.
This is just another example of how Brexit is impacting things not discussed nearly three years ago. When even a Minister that supports the Government is saying we will lose a beneficial agreement due to Brexit we must listen.
The announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice to undertake an evidence-based review of the benefit of custodial sentences of less than 6 months is to be welcomed.
The evidence points to fact that sending people to prison for a short-term custodial sentence acts as a college of crime. People who enter prison for minor offences may develop substance abuse problems, exacerbate mental health issues and connect them with hardened criminals.
I want to see a sensible sentencing policy put in place. One that takes into account the individual, their record on repeat offending and the risks they pose to communities. Prison will only work if it is used against people correctly. It fails when it trains a new generation of criminals who put our safety at risk.
In my Topical Question to the Secretary of State for Justice I asked if he believes that the Local Government Association were right to point out that the slashing of youth justice funding is having a detrimental impact upon our community safety.
Youth justice grants, which fund council youth offending teams, have tumbled from £145m in 2010-11 to £71.5m in 2018-19, according to the Local Government Association.
Councils have already set their budgets for 2019-20 but are still awaiting their allocations for youth justice grants, making it “extremely difficult” to plan services aimed at preventing gangs and violent crime, the LGA said.
The group, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, called for funding to at least be maintained at last year’s levels.
Instead of getting a proper answer I merely received platitudes. This is not good enough, especially with violent crime rising so quickly across England and Wales.