Legal Aid: Lords considers amendments

26 April 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill bounced back to the House of Lords yesterday (Wednesday 25 April) for consideration of Commons' amendments. All the amendments were agreed by Lords members, completing the 'ping pong'

Now that all amendments to the Legal Aid Bill have been agreed by both Houses the bill will receive royal assent and become and act of Parliament on the last day of the parliamentary session.

Lords did not insist on Amendments 1B, put forward by Lord Pannick, on the purpose of the bill which was rejected by the Commons when it discussed Lords' amendments on Tuesday 24 April.

Amendments 2B and 196B covering civil legal services for domestic violence cases were accepted by the House. Lord McNally concluded: 'We absolutely agree that victims of domestic violence should receive legal aid. However, other than in protection cases, there needs to be evidence, and this should be covered in regulations because of the level of detail that will be required. This package is now worthy of support. The House of Commons gave its support to this, and now should we.'

The one vote of the debate centred around Motion B1 as an amendment to Motion B, moved by Baroness Scotland of Asthal concerning the provision of legal aid to victims and their families. She explained: 'The impact that changes to private family law and legal aid will have on women, is another area where it was accepted in the equality impact assessment in the reform of legal aid consultation, that it would be the largest number of potential users of legal aid who would be affected by these reforms.' 

The motion was disagreed when members voted with 238 for and 238 against her change. Because of the equality of votes rule, the amendment could not be agreed to as there was not a majority for the amendment. 

Next stage: Royal assent

Once a bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it's ready to receive royal assent and become an act of Parliament (law). Royal assent is the Queen's formal agreement to make the bill into an act.

There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments and royal assent.

When royal assent has been given, an announcement is made in both Houses by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons.

At prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary session), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords chamber to hear the Lords commissioners announce royal assent for each bill.

Consideration of Commons' amendments on Monday 23 April

Consideration of amendments/ping pong

Once the bill has completed its passage through the second chamber the bill will return to the Commons where they will consider any amendments made.

Both Houses need to agree to the exact wording of the bill and the bill may 'ping pong' between both houses until this happens.

When the exact wording of the bill has been agreed by both Houses the bill is ready for royal assent. Once a bill receives royal assent it becomes an Act of Parliament (proposals in the bill become law).

The bill's progress so far

Some key areas of the bill:

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

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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