Categorized | Civil Law, Law Updates, Legal Aid

LASPO in the Lords

LASPO in the Lords

Line-by-line scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill continued on Tuesday in the House of Lords. Members continued where they left off before the Christmas recess when four amendments to clause 1, which defines the Lord Chancellor’s responsibilities, were debated and then withdrawn without being put to the vote.

Lord Beecham moved another amendment to clause 1 which called upon the Lord Chancellor to review the accessibility and quality of expert advice that is available for civil legal proceedings and ensure that this is maintained or improved. Concern was voiced over creating a two-tier system in which those with money are able to access expertise and those without money have difficulty. It was stressed that an expert is not a luxury, and that there are many technical issues on which a judge would be lost in coming to a proper, conclusive determination of a case without expert evidence to assist him. This amendment was withdrawn, and clause 1 was agreed.

Lord Bach moved a new clause calling for a pre-commencement impact assessment of the effect of the legal aid changes. After a full debate he said that the Government have clearly not done the work that should have been done before bringing in such controversial and fundamental legislation. “It is not too late for them to start doing it now, and I would encourage them to do so” he said. The amendment was withdrawn. So were two amendments to clause 2 – which deals with arrangements – proposed by Lord Beecham, and the clause was agreed, as was clause 3.

Clause 4, which covers the new post of Director of Legal Aid Casework, was the subject of an amendment moved by Lord Pannick. The amendment arises out of the transfer of responsibility for the allocation of legal aid from the independent Legal Services Commission to the Lord Chancellor’s Department. Decisions on legal aid in individual cases will be taken by a civil servant, who will be designated by the Lord Chancellor. Lord Pannick concluded: “Noble Lords prefer the drafting of Clause 4 to contain clear limits on the powers, in this context, of the Lord Chancellor and clear safeguards of the independence of the director. I hope that the Minister will be able to ask his officials to look again at the wording of Clause 4 so as to achieve these objectives, otherwise we will undoubtedly be returning to this matter on Report. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.” Clause 4 was agreed.

Lord Bach moved an amendment to insert a new clause on appeals following a decision made by the Director of Legal Casework in respect of eligibility for legal aid. He said: “The principle of being able to appeal against a decision made in this case by a civil servant who has been appointed by the Lord Chancellor is very important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but we may come back to this on Report. If we are coming back to the earlier independence issue, we shall have to come back to this one as well.” Clauses 5, 6 and 7 were agreed.

Sixteen amendments were up for consideration on Tuesday. Eight were not even moved and the remaining eight were withdrawn without being put to the vote. It all had the feel of preliminary skirmishing with the main events still to come. The committee stage resumes on Monday, 16 January, when perhaps some of the red meat will be reached. The Lords may then exercise their muscle as they did with the government’s Welfare Reform bill on Wednesday.

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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