Discussions will start with Clause 8 of the bill, which makes provisions about when civil legal services would be made available. Later, Lords will move on to Schedule 1 which covers the legal proceedings surrounding clinical negligence.
Catch up on committee stage day two: Tuesday 20 December
The first two amendments focused on the function of the Lord Chancellor. Discussions started with Amendment 5, moved by Lord Beecham (Labour), which called for a review from the Lord Chancellor on the 'accessibility and quality of expert advice that is available for civil legal proceedings'.
Lord McNally's (Liberal Democrat and Minister of State, Ministry of Justice), response was that the amendment was 'unworkable'. He said: 'By definition, expert witnesses are highly qualified and experienced professional individuals in their very technical fields. As professionals, they will be subject to the standards required by their respective professional membership bodies. It is not within the Lord Chancellor's gift, nor should it be, to determine the quality provided by any given expert witness.'
The amendment was withdrawn by Lord Beecham who hopes 'the Government will look again' at the issue.
Amendment 6, moved by Lord Bach (Labour), called for an 'impact assessment of the planned cuts to legal aid' by the Lord Chancellor. After what was described as a debate full of 'nerve-tingling excitement' by Lord Beecham, which delved into the affects of cuts on individuals, including 'people with disabilities or mental health issues, children, young people and sufferers of domestic abuse', the amendment was withdrawn.
Lord Pannick (Crossbench) suggested Amendment 13, examining the role of the Director of Legal Aid Casework and his concerns as to: 'whether there are sufficient guarantees of independence in the bill for the director of legal aid casework.'
The amendment was withdrawn on the premise that the wording would be reviewed at a later date: 'The Minister will be able to ask his officials to look again at the wording of Clause 4 so as to achieve these objectives, otherwise we will undoubtedly be returning to this matter on Report', said Lord Pannick.
Catch up on committee stage day one: Tuesday 20 December
Catch up on the bill's progress so far
The last stage of this bill to be completed in the Lords was the second reading, which took place on 21 November.
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.
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.