Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill: Committee day 1

21 December 2011

Line-by-line scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill began yesterday (Tuesday 20 December) in the House of Lords

The first four amendments focusing on the function of the Lord Chancellor in securing legal aid were withdrawn yesterday. 

Lord Pannick (Crossbench) started the first committee day looking at the possible insertion in Clause One: 'The Lord Chancellor must secure (within the resources made available and in accordance with this part) that individuals have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs.'

After much debate and support from Members, Lord Pannick withdrew the amendment on the following grounds: 'I am sure that the Minister will recognise that if there is no movement on this issue - an issue that I and many other noble Lords regard as absolutely fundamental - the House will return to this matter on Report, and it is clear, I suggest, that the Minister and the Government will face a substantial rebellion on their own Benches.'

Members of the Lords then debated an amendment to Clause Two put forward by Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat): 'The Lord Chancellor must secure equality between the state and any party in dispute with the state in the provision of services of advice, assistance and representation for appeals on any point of law in the fields of welfare benefits, employment, debt, housing, immigration, education, and asylum.'

The amendment was withdrawn after a response from the government. Lord McNally concluded: 'One of the crunch parts of this bill as it passes through the House will be whether we rightly judged which areas we are withdrawing from the scope of legal aid. The Lord Chancellor and my colleagues in government are confident that we have made the right decisions, hard as they have been in some cases.'

Catch up on the bill's progress so far

The last stage of this bill to take place was second reading, a general debate on the whole bill which consists of four parts and 16 schedules, this was on 21 November.

Lists of amendments

Some key areas of the bill:

  • The bill takes some types of case out of scope for legal aid funding and provides that cases would not be eligible for funding unless of a type 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.

Catch up on previous stages of the bill

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.

The day before committee stage starts, amendments (proposals for change) are published in order in a Marshalled List. Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a 'groupings of amendments' is published on the day. Lords must agree to every clause of the bill and vote on the amendments. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit for discussion.

After the committee stage, the bill is reprinted with all the agreed amendments and is moved to report stage for further examination.

Further information

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