Justice Gap on the catastrophe and Clarke's hollow words
"Tuesday, 1 May 2012A bad day for justice
So that’s that then. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has completed its way through parliament and about an hour ago received Royal Assent after months of fierce debate and a savaging by the peers.
I was in the House of Lords as it completed its passage last week. The Bill received a deserved kicking in the Lords; but, frankly, the legislation remains substantively as it was when the green paper was published in autumn 2010.
‘I genuinely believe access to justice is the hallmark of a civilised society,’ said Ken Clarke back then. The justice secretary was introducing the most radical reforms to the legal aid scheme since it was introduced as a building block in the architecture of the postwar welfare state.
‘So large a volume of defeats occurred because the Government adopted inflexible attitudes and lost the arguments on their merits,’ Lord David Pannick argued on LASPO’s last day in the Lords. The Bill had been made ‘marginally better’ by the forced changes, reflected the barrister fairly; adding that it would have been ‘marginally better’ still had his own amendment been accepted. Pannick sought to remedy the perceived ‘defect’ in Clause 1 of the Bill, which omitted to reflect that the objective of the justice secretary and his legislation was to secure ‘access to justice’. Pannick argued that the ‘unsatisfactory manner’ in which the Government treated that amendment was ‘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,’ he added. According to the silk, the Government's ‘general inflexibility’ involved ‘a failure adequately to assess the impact of the provisions’; ‘a refusal to take on board the fact that many of the financial savings are illusory’; as well as ‘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.’ It remained ‘a bad Bill’, he said. So what has been achieved by access to justice lobby? Quite a lot...................."