Lord Pannick QC the most respected and most able advocate of his generation and a Crossbencher Lord, condemns the government's Legal Aid bill in the final debate in the House of Lords ".........I hope I will be permitted to make one other observation; I do so despite the genuine respect I have for the Minister. The unsatisfactory manner in which the Government have treated this amendment is, I regret, typical of the unsatisfactory manner in which the Government have proceeded on this Bill generally. The Government were defeated on this Bill on 11 occasions on Report and three times again last Monday. So large a volume of defeats occurred because the Government adopted inflexible attitudes and lost the arguments on their merits. Part 1 of the Bill has been made marginally better by the amendments, which are the product of the considerable work done on all sides of this House. The Bill would have been marginally better if this amendment had been accepted, but this remains a bad Bill and there remains in particular a bad Part 1 in it on legal aid.
The Government's general inflexibility on the Bill, as with Amendment 1 in particular, has involved a failure adequately to assess the impact of the provisions before their implementation, a refusal to take on board the fact that many of the financial savings at which Part 1 is aimed are illusory because the denial of access to legal services will result in other financial costs to the state for disadvantaged persons who will be denied the benefits to which they are entitled, and because of a refusal to recognise that the limits on the scope of legal aid imposed by Part 1 will hit hardest the weakest and most impoverished sections of our society, often on complex questions of law such as are raised by immigration law.
The Government's treatment of my Amendment 1 is, I regret, consistent with this inflexibility and narrow perspective. I am sorry to say that the product of the Minister's hard work and the process followed by the Government on the Bill do not reflect well on this Government's reputation. They have damaged access to justice, a fundamental constitutional principle, as this amendment sought to recognise....."