Royal Assent | 01.05.2012
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2010-12
Tuesday 27th March 2012
3rd reading: House of Lords
LATEST ON THE BILL
The government has suffered a further two defeats in the House of Lords over plans to restrict legal aid in England and Wales.
Peers voted to retain legal aid for children under 18 and to maintain funding for clinical negligence cases where the negligence occurred while the claimant was a child.
The amendments were passed by peers during third reading of the bill on 27 March 2012 – taking the total number of Lords defeats on the bill to eleven.
However, a move to protect legal aid support for vulnerable young people, such as those with a disability of victims of trafficking, was rejected by 23 votes.
The government must decide whether to accept or overturn changes made to the legislation by peers when the bill returns to the Commons.
Ministers want to save £350m on its legal aid bill by 2015, arguing it will also speed up the system. But opponents argue this will damage justice.
Moving the first amendment, crossbench peer Baroness Grey-Thompson argued that cuts to legal aid were “unjust” and a “false economy”.
She said the government’s proposals would deny around 6,000 children access to legal aid each year.
“If we do not support this amendment we will be asking a child to go into the courtroom alone to argue his or her case against a barrister paid for by the taxpayer. It will be unjust and unfair,” she told the chamber.
Meanwhile, Conservative peers Lord Cormack and Baroness Eaton said it was particularly important that legal aid was provided for all child victims of clinical negligence.
A cross-party group of peers spoke in favour of the amendments, including Liberal Democrat Baroness Benjamin and Labour’s Baroness Massey of Darwen.
Opposition spokesman Lord Bach said the House was being asked to “abandon” children to a “far from understandable” legal system.
But Lord McNally denied that funding for cases involving children was being “substantially reduced”, as he summed up for the government.
He said the core principle of the government’s reforms was to ensure civil legal aid remained for the most serious cases, insisting there were safeguards to ensure children would not “fall through the net”.
“There is not going to be the kind of consequences that have been suggested,” the justice minister added.
However, Lady Grey-Thompson insisted the Commons should be asked to look again at the matter, and forced a vote on her amendment which was passed by 232 to 220.
Peers then voted on Lord Cormack’s suggestion, which was approved by 228 votes to 215, majority 13.
Monday 5th March 2012
The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was watching as peers rejected, by a majority of 37, his proposals to restrict legal support for victims of domestic violence. Earlier peers voted, by a majority of 45, to ensure there should be “access to legal services that effectively meet [people’s] needs”, albeit within the context of the resources available.
On a third amendment, requiring the director of legal aid casework to be independent, the government lost by 17 votes. Welcoming the decision, the Law Society, which represents solicitors, said: “The debate had highlighted a serious contradiction at the heart of the [director’s] role, between his duty to be independent in making decisions on individual cases, and his responsibilities to his minister.”
The House of Lords begins report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill with more detailed examination today (Monday 5 March).
The report stage debate will start with a line by line examination of the Lord Chancellor’s role in the provision of legal aid with amendments to Clause One.
In particular, Amendment Two will focus on domestic violence. Members suggest: ‘the Lord Chancellor must ensure that victims of domestic violence are able to access civil legal services in accordance with the financial eligibility criteria’.
The debate will then move on to amendments tabled (put forward) by Lords to clarify ‘delegated’ functions’, the specific roles and responsibilities when the bill comes into play and financial reporting.
Civil legal services come under the spotlight as members look at where legal aid can be provided in cases of ‘social welfare decisions relating to a benefit’ in Amendment 12 (Clause Eight).
If there is time during the debate the issue of ‘clinical negligence’ will receive further scrutiny.
The 10-day committee stage (last stage) concluded on Wednesday 15 February.
What is report stage?
Report stage in the chamber gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments (proposals for change) to a bill. It usually starts at least 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of a bill takes place during report stage. Voting can take place and any member can take part.
Before report stage takes place
- The day before report stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.
- On the day, amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published.
The bill’s progress so far
- Catch up on final day of committee stage
- Catch up on committee stage day nine
- Catch up on committee stage day eight
- Catch up on committee stage day seven
- Catch up on committee stage day six
- Catch up on committee stage day five
- Catch up on committee stage day four
- Catch up on committee stage day three
- Catch up on committee stage day two
- Catch up on committee stage day one
The previous stage of this bill to be completed in the Lords was the second reading, which took place on 21 November 2011.
What is the committee stage?
During committee stage, detailed line-by-line examination of separate clauses and schedules of the bill takes place. Any member of the Lords can take part. It can last for one or two days to eight or more. This stage usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.
Some key areas of the bill:
- The bill takes certain types of case out of scope for legal aid funding and provides that cases would not be eligible for funding unless specified in the bill.
- It abolishes the Legal Services Commission.
- It makes various provisions in respect of civil litigation funding and costs, taking forward the recommendations of the Jackson Review.
- It makes changes to sentencing provisions, giving courts an express duty (rather than the current power) to consider making compensation orders where victims have suffered harm or loss, reducing the detailed requirements on courts when they give reasons for a sentence, allowing courts to suspend sentences of up to two years rather than 12 months and amending the court’s power to suspend a prison sentence.
- It introduces new powers to allow curfews to be imposed for more hours in the day and for up to 12 months rather than the current six.
Summary of the Bill
The Bill covers a wide range of issues. It comprises four parts and 16 schedules. Part 1 makes provisions on legal aid, Part 2 deals with litigation funding and costs, and Part 3 covers sentencing and the punishment of offenders.
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10 January 2012
Committee: 2nd sitting: House of Lords
Line by line examination of the Bill took place during the second day of committee stage on 10 January. Amendments discussed covered clauses 1-4 and 7 of the Bill.
Committee stage continues on 16 January when further amendments will be discussed.
20 December 2011
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill