Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill: Committee day 4

18 January 2012

The House of Lords continues line by line scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill during committee day four today (Wednesday 18 January)

Members are expected to open the session with further amendments to Schedule One which focuses on civil legal services.

The House is likely to sit until amendment 99A, which calls for a 'report reviewing claims for clinical negligence', has been considered.

Catch up on committee stage day 3 (Monday 16 January)

Members started discussions with Clause Eight of the bill, which makes provisions about when civil legal services would be made available. Lords then scrutinised clinical negligence amendments in Schedule One.

Lord Faulks (Conservative) put his name to Amendment 22, which was later withdrawn, which looked at the Lord Chancellor's 'power' to 'omit services from the scope of legal aid and assistance'. Lord Faulks was concerned that the Lord Chancellor can remove legal aid but 'is not given the concomitant power to restore legal aid'.

The same points were also echoed in Baroness Butler-Sloss's (Crossbench) amendments (23 and 27) which called for a degree of flexibility. Lord Faulks withdrew the amendment on the grounds that ministers will address matters during the next phase of the bill in report stage.

Amendment 28 concerning clinical negligence proceedings and gaining expert reports, moved by Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Crosbench), triggered much debate by Members. This was the first of a group of amendments scrutinising Schedule 1. 

His thoughts were echoed by Lord Wigley (Crossbench) who said: 'Many people involved in cases arising from clinical negligence by a public authority are among the most destitute. These cases will frequently involve parents or other family members bringing cases against public authorities as a result of traumatic injuries sustained by their children or other relatives. Considering the inequality of arms that inevitably arises, having access to expert reports is vital.'

The debate looked at the best way to fund the expert report and resulted in the amendment's withdrawal pending further figures from the government.

The bill's progress so far

The previous 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.

Further information

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