Ministers defeated on legal aid reforms

 

The Government's legal aid reforms continued to take a battering
in the House of Lords as peers inflicted three defeats on ministers.

The triple-blow to the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Bill takes the total number of Lords defeats on the legislation to six in less than two days of report-stage debate.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's cuts to legal aid are expected to save £350 million from the Ministry of Justice budget by 2015 but they have proved deeply unpopular with many peers on all sides of the Lords.

Peers last night backed two amendments to protect free legal support for people challenging cuts to their benefits and an amendment to protect legal aid funding for expert reports in clinical negligence cases.

The two amendments on benefits were put forward by Liberal Democrat Baroness Doocey and Labour shadow justice minister Lord Bach.

Lady Doocey demanded welfare recipients be given legal aid to help them appeal against judgments which would strip them of benefits or cut the amount they receive.

She said: "For large numbers of people, the very thought of attending a tribunal can be very intimidating.

"How can the Government seriously expect people with no legal knowledge to be able to negotiate the complex nature of welfare benefit law and to have the expertise needed to be able to decipher more than 9,000 pages of advice from the Department of Work and Pensions?

"These people are going to have major problems mounting an appeal because they are going to have no idea what to appeal against."

Lord Bach said the country was rightly proud of its legal system, but added: "What underpins and guarantees our system is access to justice for everyone.

"The law is there to help everyone, including the poor, the disabled and marginalised. We have a system of helping the poor that is both practical and principled. It's not perfect, but it works."

He echoed fears the revamp would increase costs, telling peers that legal assistance "helps people keep away from the courts and tribunals" and dismissed claims legal advice encouraged more cases as a "myth".

Lord Bach added: "The Government are claiming that doing away with legal aid for social welfare is going to reduce the number of cases going to the courts - it's the exact opposite.

"It's the availability of early advice that keeps the numbers down."

But Justice Minister Lord McNally said the amendment, taken alongside a range of other ones debated with it, would "dismantle the central architecture of the Bill" and the Government's reforms.

He warned peers: "This isn't a debate about who cares most, it's about whether this House is willing to take tough decisions about our economic situation or whether it is simply going to push the problem down the corridor to the Commons, because the Commons will have to take those decisions whether we make them or not."

In angry exchanges at the end of his speech, Lord McNally told crossbenchers, whose votes are often crucial, that it was their "responsibility" to consider the tough decisions the Government faced.

He eventually gave way to Lord Laming, the convener of crossbencher peers, who called on him to "withdraw any suggestion" that any independent peers who supported Lady Doocey's amendment were "behaving irresponsibly".

Three Lib Dems rebelled on both of the benefit amendments: Lord Avebury, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lady Doocey.

Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Newton of Braintree also rebelled on both votes and fellow Conservative Lord Stewartby on one of them.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
A referee issues a red card
football
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'