Legal Aid Bill Update

The Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords took place in the Lords on 21st November 2011. Most of the peers who spoke were opposed to the legal aid cuts in whole or in part.

The full debate can be accessed by here.

Here are some extracts which demonstrate the level of the Lords’ opposition to the proposed cuts in legal aid:

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (co-founder in 1971 of the Legal Action Group) stated:

I believe that if we legislate rights and benefits for our less advantaged citizens, knowing that they will not be taken advantage of because we do not have the wherewithal to enable the people who need those benefits to access them, we are engaged in an organised hypocrisy. We undermine this place and democracy. We add to citizen disenchantment and to a social context which I believe is one we should all worry greatly about – a context which I suggest showed at least one aspect of itself in the riots a few months ago.

…What are we doing? We know the suffering, the disenchantment and the cynicism that will follow. We have made no attempt to calculate the financial costs in social or other terms. We know that these problems come in clusters and that if a man is not given advice on a housing problem because it is now out of scope, that may lead to an eviction order in a court, which in turn will lead to a plethora of social security and welfare engagements…Tens of thousands of pounds could be involved for the saving of a piece of advice by a CAB or a solicitor – God bless him if he is still doing this kind of work.

Let us not forget either that the cost of this work is by the standards of most solicitors puny. It is a £150 fixed fee for every case they take on. A City solicitor charges £150 for 10 or 15 minutes of his precious time.

Baroness Kennedy (leading civil rights barrister):

I have to say that most of my life has been spent doing legal aid cases, and I take pride in that. I do not feel that it is the sad end of the work that we do. I think that it is about the most precious and important work that we do.

Baroness King of Bow:

My Lords, this House knows that when a Bill is put before it, the Government of the day usually get some of the legislation right and some wrong. But the wrongs contained in this Bill, whether by accident or design, are monumentally devastating. They cannot be made good by the benign aspects of the Bill or written off as collateral damage to be borne by British citizens in times of austerity. The Bill undermines the very compact between citizen and state. Were it to become law, British citizens who cannot afford a lawyer will effectively lose fundamental rights they have.

Lord Elystan-Morgan:

Unless a Government of the future pass a one-clause Bill to abolish legal aid completely, the contents of this Bill and the proposals surrounding them must constitute the most savage and most deadly attack upon the institution of legal aid in the 62 years of its existence.

Baroness Mallalieu:

We may all have to stomach many unpalatable cuts in these difficult times but we would be mad to dismantle the very structure of one of the pillars of our constitution which goes to the essence of fairness in our society and respect for the rule of law.

The Bill will move on to the Committee stage in the House of Lords on 20th December 2011.

There is still time for you to influence the debate. Join the Justice for All campaign. Visit http://www.justice-for-all.org.uk/ for more information on how to lobby Peers and Members of Parliament and help ensure that legal aid is preserved for those most disadvantaged members of our society.

Marc Willers.

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