Third reading of the legal aid bill in the Lords

Third reading of the legal aid bill in the Lords

Having already forced nine amendments during the report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill, peers inflicted further damage on the legislation at the third reading stage of the bill on Tuesday.

Baroness Grey-Thompson (Crossbench), the former paralympian, put down an amendment opposing government plans to save £6m a year by removing as many as 6,000 children from entitlement to legal support. She said: “If the Bill is left as it stands, legal aid for around 35,000 children every year will continue, but legal aid will not be available for around 6,000 children under 18 who would qualify if the current rules remained in place.”

She said that children, by virtue of their age and capacity, will not be able to present their case effectively in the majority of proceedings. She concluded: “To deny children, the most vulnerable in our society, the ability to access legal aid without any understanding of what the wider consequences would be is not something we should accept.” On division the amendment was agreed by 232 – 220.

Lord Cormack (Conservative) moved the next, related, amendment concerning children and clinical negligence. He said: “If, in the care of the NHS someone is damaged through clinical negligence then there should be an automatic right of redress. That is more particularly the case when we come to children, and that is what the amendment focuses on.” The House agreed the amendment by 228 – 215.

The government also made several concessions. Firstly they accepted an amendment that the lord chancellor could bring back into the scope categories of legal aid without the need for primary legislation. Secondly they conceded legal aid for victims of child abduction in the United Kingdom as well as for cases abroad. And finally they agreed to bring into the scope of legal aid cases in which the victims of human trafficking seek damages in either the civil courts or an employment tribunal. They would also provide legal aid to this group for immigration advice.

The government could however celebrate eight divisions that went their way. Closest was a second tied vote, this time on a proposal by Lord Pannick (Crossbench) covering the exceptional cases category for legal aid. He argued that the government’s proposal to include an exceptional cases category was too narrow and failed to meet its purpose. “That is because the exceptional cases category set out in the clause applies only if the refusal of legal aid would amount to a breach of rights under the European Convention on Human Rights or would create a risk of doing so”, he said. The vote was tied at 201 – 201, and therefore the amendment was defeated.

The other seven government successes came on motions concerning legal aid for vulnerable young people; the homeless; conditional fee agreements; success fees; restorative justice; victims of international corporate human rights abuse; and the timing of the bill’s implementation.

The bill now returns to the Commons for consideration of amendments on 17 April. This will be the government’s opportunity to seek to reverse some or all of the defeats inflicted by the Lords.

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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