LASPO implemented – or not?

LASPO implemented – or not?

From Monday a range of new criminal offences and sentences introduced in LASPO came into effect.

The new offences include a mandatory life sentence for people convicted of a second very serious sexual or violent offence, aggravated knife possession, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, measures to strengthen community sentences and tough new sentences for hate crime. Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: “Criminals should be in no doubt they will be punished for their crimes, with those who commit the most serious offences receiving the most severe sentences.”

But on the same day his government suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lords. This came after justice minister Lord McNally had moved the draft Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2012, explaining that: “The merits criteria are those that the director of legal aid casework must apply in deciding whether an individual qualifies for civil legal services.”

Critics were led by the Labour former minister Lord Bach, who urged peers to reject the order. Lord Bach said the lack of legal aid would deny claimants a fair hearing in point of law cases. He said: “Her Majesty’s Government undertook on 17 April this year in the House of Commons to bring forward secondary legislation to allow eligible appellants to a First-tier Tribunal legal aid if their appeal is based on a point of law, but in the event the Government have failed to honour this undertaking.”

He added that a very large number of appellants at First-tier Tribunal are disabled people appealing against decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions. Others appealing are often working men and working women who have been the object of other wrong decisions about benefits which they are entitled to. “That is why early, inexpensive legal advice has been so important. It means that hopeless cases do not clog up the tribunals and that appellants can put their case better”, he said.

Speaking to his amendment, Lord Bach said: “My case is this: how can it be right that there is automatic legal aid for any client who gets to the second-tier or upper tribunal – the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court – on a welfare law case but no automatic right to legal aid for first-tier tribunals? You can get to the second-tier tribunal or the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court only on a point of law. If that is the position, how can it be right that at a first-tier tribunal, when a client has a point of law, they should not be allowed some legal advice before the first-tier tribunal commences – in other words, before the first-tier tribunal or during it?”

In his response Lord McNally made it quite clear that this was about money not justice. He said: “When I am carrying out my other responsibilities in the Ministry of Justice and I am suddenly told by this House, which has no responsibilities in the Ministry of Justice, that I have to find £5 million, £15 million or £25 million, there are decisions that must be made.” He concluded: “My Lords, we are almost on the verge of another financial Statement by the Chancellor. I have made it clear that the noble Lord must not lure the House into an idea that following him into the Division Lobby will produce a better offer because it will not.”

Their Lordships were not cowed by this threat and passed the amendment on a vote by 201 – 191. Opposition to LASPO is alive and well. Secondary legislation has only been voted down in the Lords three times in the past 40 years. According to the ‘Guardian’ the last time was in 2007 when peers rejected the then culture secretary Tessa Jowell’s plan for a regional supercasino in Manchester and smaller casinos for 16 other local authorities.

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 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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