Courts should not intervene in funding disputes where a litigant has been denied legal aid, the justice minister, Shailash Vara, has said. He told a committee of MPs today that judges should accept litigants in person and the courts should work with them.
His statement was in response to a question during a session of the House of Commons justice committee.
Mr Vara was asked for his opinion on a case handled by Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, in which the judge said the state must find a way of funding a litigant being taken to court either through court funds or legal aid. Munby further accused the government of ‘washing its hands’ of the problem.
Rise in Unrepresented Litigants
Mr Vara said he took on board Munby’s comments and that the Ministry of Justice is working with the judiciary to resolve problems associated with litigants in person. However, the minister pointed out that the proportion of family cases where at least one person is unrepresented was 66% before legal aid cuts and has risen to just 74%.
“The courts have always managed in difficult circumstances. That is the nature of the courts’ and judges’ job so whatever the circumstances they make sure justice is done. If that means a LiP they have to deal with it – we take the view there are rules by which we are guided.”
Lack of Consideration of Impact
Mr Vara was also questioned on the evidence given by the Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Ursula Brennan to the House of Commons public accounts committee last week, in which she suggested that decisions were taken about legal aid reforms without research into the impact on individuals or the court system itself.
“There is a reality that we had to take very urgent action,
“It would have been – in an ideal world – perfect to have a two-year research programme talking to all stakeholders and coming to a decision. Sadly the economic position didn’t allow that luxury.”