Three wins for the government on the legal aid bill

Three wins for the government on the legal aid bill

The House of Lords concluded report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill with three votes on Tuesday. The session on this fifth day went on until past midnight.

Lord Beecham (Labour) moved an amendment on referral fees. He said: “The amendment deals with the position of not-for-profit organisations. We are entirely at one with the Government in seeking to ban referral fees made to commercial organisations simply for the purpose of making profits. However, some organisations – be they charities or membership organisations – receive referral fees from firms of solicitors and perhaps from others…whose contributions help those organisations carry out their main purpose.”

For the government, Lord McNulty called the amendment “wrong headed” and said it would make a mockery of the ban on referral fees. The House agreed, and the amendment was defeated by 257 votes to 173.

Five years ago Baroness Corston (Labour) produced a report on a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system. In moving a proposal for a new clause to set up a Women’s Criminal Justice Policy Unit she said that, in her report, “I called for a joined-up response across government to address the multiple and complex issues in the lives of women offenders and – I emphasise ‘and’ – women at risk of offending.” After a detailed and, at times, passionate debate, the House divided and arrived at an “equality of votes” with members voting 217 – 217. As there was no majority, the vote meant a government win.

Moving a new clause to cover a duty to release certain prisoners serving a whole life sentence, Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Crossbench) said: “I can see no good reason why the noble Lord should not accept this anodyne amendment. Anodyne it is. It cannot possibly do any harm. The only purpose of it is to give back to whole life prisoners the expectation of a review.” The House disagreed by 90 votes to 60.

There was a rare moment of agreement when Lord Pannick (Crossbench) moved a new clause covering payments in respect of pro bono representation before the Supreme Court. Minister of state Lord McNally said: “We hope that it will increase the stream of funding available for pro bono work. I have great pleasure in saying that the Government accept this amendment.”

Many other matters were discussed, including proposed amendments on such subjects as the offence of squatting in a residential building, scrap metal theft and disclosure of information about convictions of violent abusers to members of the public (Clare’s Law), which were withdrawn .

One such debate gives a flavour of the Lords. A noble lady proposed a new clause about awareness of sentencing options. First she thanked those noble Lords who had added their names to the amendments, “in particular my hero the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.” The minister welcomed her input but hoped that she would feel able to withdraw her amendment. The proposer replied “My Lords, I cannot thank everybody who has contributed to this debate warmly enough”, and she was encouraged by the minister’s response. And of course she withdrew her amendment, because this is the House of Lords.

Third reading next Tuesday is the final chance for the Lords to debate and change the contents of the bill. Amendments at third reading in the Lords are often used to clarify specific parts of the bill and to allow the government to make good any promises of changes to the bill made at earlier stages. But don’t hold your breath.

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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