Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill: Update

The Bill continues its passage through the House of Lords with the Third Reading scheduled for 27 March 2012. Following this reading the Bill will be discussed between the House of Commons and the House of Lords during which both Houses will try to settle some of the disputes.

Focusing on immigration legal aid, the amendments so far include:

to make a provision for legal aid for victims of trafficking for immigration and damages / compensation against traffickers;
to include power for the Government to bring back, or add new, areas of legal aid scope back into the bill;
to provide legal aid for exceptional cases where it is necessary to prevent specific injustice;
to retain legal aid for child / vulnerable young people in proceedings including immigration;
to retain legal aid for applications based on Article 2 of the ECHR;

The timetable for settling disputes will be mid-April. After which the Government will ignore everything that the House of Lords tabled and go approve the Bill without any amendments.

More when we have it!

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

The Legal Aid Bill aims to cut funding to legal aid and for some areas, such as immigration cases, remove funding for them completely. The Bill went through the Public Bill Committee on 06 September 2011.

There was no discussions relating to the removal of funding for immigration cases, and it appears that many want to avoid the word 'immigration' completely. That said, there was acceptance that there may be 'advice deserts' where some areas will have no to specialist lawyers. The closure of the RMJ and the IAS were highlighted as examples of that.

The Minister pointed out that immigration tribunals 'are designed to be user-friendly and interpreters are provided free of charge' as a way of countering the restriction to legal aid in such cases. He went on to make a point that legal aid will be retained for 'domestic violence immigration cases, cases before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and immigration detention cases, including advocacy before the tribunal.'

The full debate and written submissions from concerned organisations, individuals and companies can be found here.

Also, if you're interested how a bill for a new law, or a proposal to change an existing law, is presented for debate click here.

Snippets of the Lords Depate on Legal Aid

The House of Lords had a debate (19.05.11) on the Government's plan to cut the legal aid budget by £350 million, thereby depriving hundreds of thousands from legal representation.

Lord Beecham began the debate by saying, 'The legal aid system was one of the great pillars of the post war welfare state.' He called the cuts 'draconian' and the Government's suggestion that mediation and voluntary organisations would fill the gap was wrong.

He went on to comment that the £1.2 billion budget has been frozen since 2003/4, despite a significant increase in the number of people helped. The taxpayer is getting a lot more for a lot less, but you can only squeeze so far.

Lord Thomas of Gresford pointed out that...

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Defending Legal Aid

The Law Society has published its views on the Government's proposals to cut legal aid. The proposals explain how access to justice can be safeguarded whilst still making financial savings. At the same time they have established a Sound Off for Justice campaign. The campaign aims to Read More...