Thursday, 28 July 2011

Looming Autumn of discontent and a minister in trouble

Parliament rose for its summer break last week after the Prime Minister David Cameron had given his statement on the phone tapping scandal. The day before on 19th July the Committee scrutinising the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill had met for its first session to consider the content of the Bill.

The Committee last week did not get beyond a general discussion on the Bill and clause one. A point proved we think on the lack of time that LAG and others have complained about being devoted to the Bill. We fear that as little as two and half days will be devoted to the forty clauses in the Bill on legal aid, as the government seems determined to force through the Bill so that it can be sent to the House of Lords by 13th October.

Many organisations are trying to get the Bill amended while it is in the Commons committee stage. Amendments, amongst other issues, will seek to reverse the cuts in scope, widen the definition of domestic violence and introduce an independent appeals system against the refusal of legal aid. Once the Bill is in the Lords further detailed amendments are likely to be pursued by LAG and other organisations concerned about access to justice.

Justice for All (J4A) will be increasing its campaigning and lobbying work over the summer and autumn. The J4A campaign, which is an alliance of charities and other organisations concerned about the legal aid cuts, is expected to employ a full-time campaign manager to be based at LAG’s offices. The campaign manager will be in charge of the day to day running of the campaign while the Bill is being considered.

J4A and LAG will be active at all three autumn party conferences in fringe events and at meetings with parliamentarians. LAG is also involved in a number of research projects over the summer period which will provide evidence on the impact of the proposed legal aid cuts on the public. We anticipate publishing a number of reports to coincide with the Bill’s progress through parliament. All the organisations opposed to the cuts in legal aid intend to increase the pressure on the government over the autumn and into the winter as the Bill makes its way through the parliamentary process.

The phone tapping scandal seems to be a factor in the re-boot of the controversy involving the minister with responsibility for the LASPO Bill, Jonathan Djanogly MP. The Daily Telegraph is carrying a story today that he has been reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over his use of private detectives to covertly monitor members of his constituency party. This story originally broke two years ago. According to the Telegraph the detectives he used have admitted “using subterfuge to gain the information.” The Labour M.P who made the complaint, John Mann, is calling for Djanogly’s resignation, but this seems unlikely to happen as the ICO have confirmed this afternoon the complaint does not fall in their remit.

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