Legal aid concessions on the way?

Legal aid concessions on the way?

A fortnight ago the Government signalled that it was abandoning controversial clause 12 of the Legal Aid bill that would have introduced means testing for initial advice and assistance at the police station. Now it looks as if further concessions could be on the way.

Having suffered heavy defeats in the Lords over the welfare reform and health service bills, the government appears eager to avoid further embarrassing reversals. As reported in the ‘Guardian’, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly, addressing a Westminster Legal Policy Forum meeting, said that the government continues to listen as the bill goes through the house and is also actively considering other amendments in the Lords. At the same time he made the startling admission that he was uncertain about the precise costs and benefits of the reforms. This has been the thrust of much of the opposition in the Commons and the Lords.

Two areas seem likely for a change of heart. Lord Tebbit has put his name down to two, linked, amendments that would ensure children, or parents on their behalf, will be entitled to legal aid if they need to pursue medical negligence claims. Djanogly said: “There are various things we are looking at in the margins coming out of the Lords debate. There’s a very small proportion of personal injury cases that attract legal aid, namely for clinical negligence … that makes up less than 1% of personal injury cases.” The second area is the definition of domestic violence that would entitle victims to claim legal aid, which has been the subject of much passionate debate in the Lords.

Concern is growing over the fate of advice centres. During the second reading of the bill in the Commons last year, a U-turn safeguarded the position of Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, but the future still looks bleak for the myriad of small, specialist advice groups. AdviceUK is the UK’s largest support network for free, independent advice centres. They have just under 900 organisations in membership, ranging from small volunteer only services run from makeshift premises, through to large national advice organisations. These agencies, which provide a lifeline to people in debt, or facing problems with their benefits or housing, are under financial pressure as never before.

Massive public sector job losses and welfare benefit cuts and proposed reforms will see demand for advice on benefits, debt and housing soar. At the same time, cuts in local authority spending, plus proposals for legal aid cuts, mean far less funding for advice centres. The London Advice Watch reported the findings of a research project on provision of social welfare law advice in London. It came to the conclusion that, in London alone, 77,000 will lose out on housing, employment, debt, welfare benefits and immigration advice. If the legal aid cuts are implemented Londoners will lose £9.33m in funding for housing, employment, debt, and welfare benefits law cases. The report estimated that this will cost the government £55m in other expenditure.

Meanwhile the Lords continue their line-by-line examination of the bill. Committee stage days 6, 7 and 8 produced the same mixture as before. Debate moved away from legal aid matters and addressed topics such as conditional fee agreements, recovery of insurance premiums, third party litigation funding, curfew requirements and youth rehabilitation orders, among others. Some technical government amendments were agreed, and for the rest, all the many amendments under consideration were either withdrawn after debate or not proposed at all. It is becoming more likely that the main event is going to be Report Stage.

Whenever that may be.

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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