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Justice Committee quizzes experts on court capacity and legal aid

25 January 2021

The House of Commons Justice Committee has invited testimony from a range of legal experts at the second session of its inquiries into Court Capacity and the Future of Legal Aid which will be held at 2.30 pm on Tuesday 26 January and broadcast on parliamenlive.tv The two inquiries are holding several joint evidence sessions because of the overlap in information relevant to them both.

The Court Capacity inquiry is looking at the capacity of the courts system and how it can address delays to cases being heard. The number of delays has grown considerably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this session, the inquiry will hear evidence on a range of issues including the relative value of physical courts compared with online or remote hearings. Questions about the importance or otherwise of juries will be considered and how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on this matter. New arrangements seeking to resolve issues around social distancing will be examined, including examples from other countries such as, in Scotland, where some jurors watch court proceedings from converted cinema halls.

Witnesses will be asked about the range of technological innovations that are already being used to try to reduce the backlog in court cases and whether these solutions can be safely used to resolve the problem.

The Future of Legal Aid inquiry is looking at the major challenges facing legal aid clients and providers, and how they might be tackled. The legal aid system in England and Wales was fundamentally changed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (LASPO) which led to reductions in the amount of money available from public funds for legal aid.

The session on January 26 will hear from experts in immigration, criminal and family law. It will address questions relating to the right to legal representation and the extent to which this is being respected. It will look at spending on representation in the various areas of law and consider evidence on how, in some cases, financial cuts have made it difficult to recruit lawyers to represent or advise defendants.

Witnesses

Tuesday 26 January

At 2.30 pm

The inquiry will be organised in two panels with the witnesses being:  

Panel 1: 

  • Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Research and Learning, The Legal Education Foundation
  • Dr Hannah Quirk, Reader in Criminal Law, Kings College London

Panel 2: 

  • Dr Mavis Maclean CBE, Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford 
  • Dr Vicky Kemp, Principal Research Fellow, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Jo Wilding, Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Brighton

Further information

Image: MoJ