The Law Society has done summaries of the first 4 days of the Legal Aid bill at report stage in the Lords
Days 1 and 2
"The Law Society > News News Legal aid bill: government suffers defeats in the Lords
Thursday 08 March 2012
The government has been defeated in six key votes during the first two days of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill's report stage, and has been forced into offering concessions in several other important areas.
During the first day of debate on Monday 5 March, peers voted three times against the government. First, to insist that the legislation state that people 'must have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs'; second, to insert amendments intended to protect victims of domestic violence by, among other things, setting out a comprehensive list of eligibility criteria for obtaining legal aid on the face of the bill; and finally, inserting a sub-clause ensuring the independence of the new post of director of legal aid casework from political interference.
Three further defeats were inflicted on Wednesday with peers voting to retain legal aid for welfare benefits appeals, with respect to both reviews and lower tribunal appeals and also with respect to appeals to the higher courts. In the third defeat peers voted to retain legal aid for the cost of obtaining medical reports in clinical negligence cases.
The defeats come on top of several government concessions - in the face of widespread cross-party criticism during earlier stages of deliberation - on clinical negligence for severely injured children, the bill’s definition of domestic violence, the power to means-test police station advice, the retained power only to omit further services from legal aid in the future, on domestic child abduction and for victims of human trafficking.
There are also promising signs of movement from the government on providing legal aid for appellants in cases which are certified as complex or are of substantial public interest.
The report stage is scheduled to continue for a further two weeks, with several more government defeats expected.
"The Law Society > News News LASPO: government suffers defeat on telephone gateway proposals
Monday 19 March 2012
LASPO: report stage - days three and four The government was defeated on provisions to deny clients face-to-face advice and forced to offer concessions on other issues during report stage debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill last week in the House of Lords.
Day three Day three was a 'half' day, meaning that discussions did not begin until early evening, but nonetheless continued until just before midnight. The result of this was that relatively few peers were able to attend for votes, and important issues – such as exceptional funding and the use of restrained funds in criminal cases – were discussed in a near-empty chamber.
This context meant that day three was largely disappointing. A number of amendments, all intended to retain particular areas of law within the scope of legal aid, were discussed. However, just two – on immigration and debt cases – were pushed to a vote, both of which the government narrowly won. Other 'scope' amendments covering employment law, criminal injuries cases and areas of law relating to travellers and housing benefit cases were discussed, but without any votes.
An amendment seeking to expand the scope of the exceptional funding procedure was debated late in the evening, once most peers had departed. The result of this was that, despite strong feeling among peers that the test is too narrow, it was not pushed to a vote on this occasion.
In relation to legal advice and assistance in the police station, most peers were satisfied with the government's amendment to remove the means test but many questioned why a merits test remained. An amendment which would have removed this provision was withdrawn, however, following reassurances from the minister that the government had no intention of altering the current system.
Finally, approaching midnight, peers discussed an issue the Society has been campaigning on for many years: the use of restrained funds in criminal cases. The minister was able to confirm that there is an ongoing discussion between the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office in relation to the issue, but that those discussions would not bear fruit in sufficient time to make amendments to this bill.
Day four The government suffered a significant defeat on day four as peers voted by 234 votes to 206 in favour of an amendment removing a power to deny clients face-to-face advice, and instead inserting a requirement that the government provide multiple means of accessing legally aided services.
The amendment was moved by crossbench peer Baroness Grey-Thompson and supported by peers from across the House.
In reply, the minister demonstrated a shaky grasp of the issue, initially making the case in favour of the availability of telephone advice – which no one disputes - rather than the case for the telephone being the mandatory sole route to get access to legal aid services. Later in his response, the minister also argued that because the gateway would be initially trialled in just a few small areas of law it should be allowed to stand; a response which failed to address the fact that the bill contains broad powers to deny face-to-face advice wherever the lord chancellor deems necessary – which indeed the green paper expressly said was the government's intention.
The government will seek to overturn the vote in the House of Commons, but did offer an important concession: community care law will no longer be included in the gateway's pilots. The judicial review (JR) brought by community care practitioners and supported by the Society no doubt played a large role in convincing the government to reverse that decision. Although the JR failed at the permission stage (on the grounds that it was premature), the government were left in no doubt that it would have been revived had they continued with the gateway plans. This knowledge, combined with political pressure from the Society and others, was enough to secure the concession."