Legal Aid: Lords considers amendments

25 April 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill bounces back to the House of Lords today (Wednesday 25 April) for consideration of Commons' amendments ('ping pong' stage). The Commons considered the latest Lords' amendments yesterday (Tuesday 24 April)

Consideration of Commons' amendments on Monday 23 April

Members of the Lords voted eight times during the debate on a range of issues from the Lord Chancellor's role to legal aid for social welfare cases.

The first vote took place on Amendment A1, an amendment to Motion A moved by Lord Pannick (Crossbench), to promote access to legal services within the financial resources that are made available by the Lord Chancellor.

He suggested that 'the Lord Chancellor shall exercise his powers ... with a view to securing that individuals have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs, subject to the resources which the Lord Chancellor decides.'

After what he described as a 'full debate', Lord Pannick called for a vote. He said: 'That part of the 27 minutes which the other place devoted to consideration of this amendment shows that the purpose and effect of this amendment were not understood. I think that we should ask the other place to think again on this important matter, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.'

The vote resulted in the first government defeat of the evening with 248 members voting 'content' (for) and 233 'not content' (against) the change.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Labour) then moved Motion B1, an amendment to Motion B, which covered amendments on legal services for victims of domestic violence.

After a debate looking at cases of women and children victims, a vote followed with 239 votes 'for' and 236 'against' her changes.

Baroness Grey-Thompson (Crossbench) moved Motion D1, an amendment to Motion D, covering the Lord Chancellor's duty to a person eligible for legal aid advice. Members voted with 231 'for' and 243 'against' the proposed change.

Later on, members also voted on Baroness Grey-Thompson's proposed Motion J1 on civil legal services for children under 18 years, in the final vote of the evening. This resulted in a division with 100 members supporting and 154 against the motion.

The debate then turned to compensation for victims of asbestos. Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) moved Motion E1, as an amendment to Motion E, in support of compensation for mesothelioma sufferers. A vote followed with 214 'contents' and 205 'not contents'.

Lord Wigley (Plaid Cymru) moved Motion F1, as an amendment to Motion F, on industrial disease claims. Members divided (voted) with 174 'for' and 220 'against' his suggested change, resulting in the second government win.

The sixth vote followed on Lord Bach's (Labour) amendment G1 (civil legal services for social welfare) also led to a government win with 159 to 197 votes.

A majority voted against Motion H1 moved by Lord Cormack (Conservative) looking at civil legal services provided in relation to clinical negligence and children in the seventh division (vote). There were 168 against and 125 supporting the change.

Consideration of amendments/ping pong

The bill returned from the Commons, where Lords' changes to the bill were examined on Tuesday 17 April.

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.

Next and final 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.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Crime, civil law, justice and rights, Parliament, government and politics, Administration of justice, Civil law, Parliament, House of Lords news, Members of the Lords, Lords news, Bill news, Legal aid, Crime, Criminal law, Legal profession, Central government

Share this page