Justice Bill: MPs rebel on legal aid reform

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Indy Politics
THE GOVERNMENT is facing an embarrassing backbench rebellion today over its radical plans to overhaul the Legal Aid system.

At least 40 backbenchers have signed an amendment to the Access to Justice Bill, calling on the Government to retain legal aid in personal injury actions for vulnerable groups such as the disabled, children and people on income support.

Under the legislation, the present Legal Aid Board will be replaced by a new government-run Criminal Defence Service (CDS) which will dispense contracts to lawyers for publicly funded criminal cases. It also aims to put more emphasis on housing and debt litigation and less on personal injuries, and will provide for state funding for criminal defence cases.

When the bill was debated in the Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, said he was opposed to any discrimination on the grounds of disability because "justice for all" was the underlying principle behind the bill.

If the backbenchers decide to press ahead with the vote on their amendment tonight, it would signal their increasing willingness to embarrass the Government over controversial legislation.

Last week Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, managed to diffuse a potentially damaging revolt over the voucher scheme for asylum seekers as proposed under the Asylum and Immigration Act by offering a number of concessions.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown will come under Tory pressure today to change the rules for single parents in the Government's Working Families Tax Credit. Even some Labour MPss are privately concerned that married couples will be able to choose whether the tax credit is paid through their employer or through the post office, while lone parents will receive the credit with their wages.