Legal Aid Bill: 3 defeats for government by peers

Dated:

The government's proposed changes to the legal aid system has suffered a setback after the House of Lords voted for 3 amendments to the current Bill.

Legal

Peers supported an amendment pressing for funding cuts protection for victims of domestic violence, along with others relating to access to services and the appointment of a new official overseer.

Under the terms of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the government expects to reduce Ministry of Justice spending by £350m by 2015. However, opponents believe the cuts to legal aid will erode people's rights, an assertion the government claims is untrue.

The 1st amendment requested that legislation must state that people should have "access to legal services that effectively meet their needs".

Supporting the amendment, the crossbencher Lord Pannick said this would cost ministers nothing since the duty would apply only "within the resources made available".

Although it was dismissed as "unnecessary" and "not appropriate" by the justice minister, Lord McNally, the amendment was passed by 235 votes to 190.

An Opposition amendment securing legal aid protection for victims of domestic violence was approved by 238 votes to 201. The coalition suffered its 2nd defeat despite Lord McNally's assurance of the government's commitment to supporting action against domestic violence "and supporting the victims of domestic violence whether through legal aid funding or other means."

An amendment urging terms for appointing a Director of Legal Aid Casework to be clearly set out in the legislation was also backed by the Lords, defeating the government by 212 votes to 195.

While ministers insist that this office will be filled by a civil servant, peers argued that the director's independence must be explicitly stated in order to offset ministerial interference.




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