Thank you for contacting me about legal aid.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.7 billion a year in legal aid and that a new Legal Support Action Plan has been announced which will ensure resources are available for those who need it most.
Measures in the action plan include a new focus on the individual and early intervention, as well as greater support for those who need solutions to problems before they become entangled in the legal system. The action plan will allow for an additional £3 million to support those representing themselves through the court system.
The Government continues to make a number of changes to legal aid, including undertaking a comprehensive review of the means test, improving and simplifying the exceptional case funding scheme, making face-to-face advice more readily available in a number of civil matters, and undertaking an awareness campaign for legal aid and legal support.
I do fully understand your concerns regarding this issue and I welcome the opportunity to provide some clarity. After passing on these concerns to the Justice team, Ministers have confirmed that there will be a full consultation on these fee changes before anything is finalised next year. This is very welcome and will ensure views and opinions are heard.
It is also the case that the new, increased fee structure has been under consideration for a while and reflects the digitalisation of the tribunal system. It is important to remember that this has allowed justice to continue during the current pandemic.
It is vital to consider that these are temporary changes. Immigration and asylum practitioners have been contacted regularly and Ministers will continue to engage through the full consultation on what should replace them by June 2021.
You may be pleased to know that new fee structure will result in practitioners being paid substantially more for their work per hearing than they are currently. Fees have increased from £227 for no hearing and £567 for a hearing to £627 for both.
For the reasons I have outlined I will not be signing EDM 599. However, I will closely monitor the developments in this area and I look forward to the full consultation before any changes are finalised by June 2021.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP