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Committee day three in the Lords

Committee day three in the Lords

The Lords continued their examination of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on Monday, starting with Clause 8, which makes provisions about when civil legal services would be made available.

Amendment 21 was moved by Lord Beecham. He said that the bill sought to make legal aid provision a matter of exception rather than of course. Instead of listing only matters that would be eligible for legal aid, they exclude everything except those matters that are contained within the clause. The amendment would reverse the way that the Government are putting matters. It was withdrawn without being put to the vote.

Amendment 22, moved by Lord Faulks, concerned Clause 8(2), which gives the Lord Chancellor the power to modify Part 1 of Schedule 1 so as to omit services from the scope of legal aid and assistance. He said that the power would allow the Lord Chancellor to remove areas from the scope of legal aid without proper debate on the Floor of the House. After debate, he said: “I very much hope that, when this matter comes back on Report, those concerns can be reflected by the Minister. In that guise, I am happy to withdraw this amendment.” Amendments 23 to 27 were not moved.

Consideration moved on to Schedule 1: Civil legal services. Amendment 28 was moved by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, one of a group of amendments concerning clinical negligence proceedings and expert reports. All the amendments were directed towards the retention of legal aid in clinical negligence cases. Lord Wigley said: “Many people involved in cases arising from clinical negligence by a public authority are among the most destitute…Considering the inequality of arms that inevitably arises, having access to expert reports is vital. To put this debate into context, there are about 1 million adverse accidents in the NHS every year.” The debate – described as “very thoughtful” because so many of those who participated had experience, either legal or medical, of cases of this kind – looked at the best way to fund the expert report and resulted in the amendment’s withdrawal pending further figures from the government. Amendments 29 to 31 were not moved.

Baroness Doocey proposed amendment 32, relating to the ability of claimants, the majority of whom are disabled, to appeal against decisions on their entitlement to welfare benefits. She said that the Bill as it stands would remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. “The need for such legal aid is best demonstrated by the fact that nearly 40 per cent of all appeals against work capability assessment decisions are upheld.” After a lively debate and a robust response from minister Lord McNally, Baroness Doocey said: “I really hope that the Minister will reflect again and consider bringing back some hope at Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.”

Baroness O’Loan proposed amendment 33, which sought to restore families with dependent children to the list of those eligible for legal aid and advice. She said: “Some 650,000 of the poorest people will be deprived of the access that they currently have through solicitors, CAB law centres and other advice centres…140,000 children will be affected by the proposed measures as legal aid is withdrawn from the adults who care for them, and…at least 6,000 children will be deprived of legal aid altogether.” In response to the debate, Lord McNally said: “I am not waving a white handkerchief and making specific concessions, but I take the point made by the noble and learned Baroness in closing that this has been an array of experience and expertise that we would do well to consider, and this we will do before we bring these matters back on Report. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, who started this debate, whether she will now withdraw her amendment.” She did.

More to come, with day four scheduled for Wednesday, 18 January.

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Stephen Richards and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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