The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill has suffered a fresh round of defeats in the House of Lords, after peers voted down a further three of its controversial proposals.
The defeats mean that the bill now faces a further round of voting before the parliamentary session ends early next week, and sets up a potential constitutional battle, as the unelected Lords in the Upper Chamber continue to defy the will of the majority in the elected House of Commons.
The bill is one of the Government’s major austerity measures, designed to trim some £350m from the legal aid bill. It has proved controversial because under the proposals legal aid representation will be denied to many of the most vulnerable members of society, prompting some to say that it denies access to justice and should be scrapped.
Ministers must now review their position, and decide whether they believe they can force the bill through in time or whether to accept the final amendments of the Lords to guarantee its passage into law.
The bill has already had a chequered past, being defeated some 11 times on initial consideration by the Lords. The Government made some concessions, but insisted that it intended for the bill to succeed in its original form, as its primary aim was for budgetary reductions.
In the Lords on Monday night, Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Lord McNally urged his colleagues to approve the bill.
“In a time of austerity we must make responsible choices about spending public money,” he declared.
However, in retort Lord Pannick said that previous amendments by the Lords had been overturned by the Commons in less than half an hour, prompting him to claim that they had not been properly considered.
The three defeats concerned a passage stating that access to legal services should “meet people’s needs”, amendments to proposals over legal aid in domestic violence cases and the reinsertion of an exemption for sufferers of asbestos related cancer from the new ‘no-win, no-fee’ regime.
Speaking about the amendment on domestic violence, Lady Scotland said: “We on this side of the house have made a choice: our choice is to support victims and their children.”
“If we cannot afford to protect women, children and men who are in this position then I have to say we are a very poor country indeed,” she added.
Read more on the story (The Guardian)
Legal aid (FindLaw)
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