Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Further defeats on Legal Aid Bill for government

Last night the government suffered two further defeats on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (known as the Legal Aid Bill) at report stage in the House of Lords. Peers have now voted in favour of eleven amendments to the bill, more than any other bill in this parliament.

Peers voted by 232 to 220 last night to keep legal aid funding for children in civil legal cases. They also voted by 228 to 215 to retain legal aid in clinical negligence cases. Speaking to her amendment on legal aid for children in civil cases, Lady Grey-Thompson, the paralympian and disabled rights campaigner, said: 'Children are not adults. They do not have the capacity to represent themselves or to interpret the thousands of pages of laws and regulations that affect them.'

Nine of the eleven defeats have been over the provisions in the bill on legal aid. It returns to the House of Commons next month to enter what is known as the 'ping pong' stage, in which the amended bill goes between the Lords and the Commons until agreement is reached. Key areas of the bill which have been amended include provisions relating to qualifying for legal aid in domestic violence cases, as well as retaining legal aid for welfare benefits and cases involving children. LAG also argues that the decision-making process on entitlement to legal aid in individual cases should be independent of government. An amendment which ensures this was supported by peers and the government has indicated that it would consider introducing an independent review procedure for cases.

LAG and Justice for All are urging supporters to contact their MPs, especially Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, to ask the government to support the Legal Aid Bill as amended by the Lords.

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