Legal Aid Bill: Lords report stage day two

07 March 2012

The House of Lords continues report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill with more detailed examination today (Wednesday 7 March)

The debate will start with Amendments 11 and 12, which look at social welfare law and civil legal services provided to those on benefits, allowances, pensions and credits.

The provision of legal aid for clinical negligence proceedings, debt-related disputes and employment disputes come under the spotlight in following amendments.

If Lords reach Amendment 21 in today's proceedings, they will discuss legal aid for vulnerable youngsters, under the age of 24 years.

Catch up on report stage day one (Monday 5 March)

Three divisions (votes) took place in the chamber during report stage day one yesterday (Monday 5 March).

The report stage debate started with a line by line examination of the Lord Chancellor's role in the provision of legal aid in Clause One.

Lord Pannick (Crossbench) opened the debate by moving Amendment One, looking at the wording behind the Lord Chancellor's functions. He explained it was 'to ensure that the bill contains a statement of this uncontroversial and fundamental purpose of legal aid, that is, the promotion of access to justice'.

A vote followed, dividing the house with 235 members 'for' the amendment (contents) and 190 members 'against' (not contents), resulting in a government defeat.

Amendment Two focused on the provision of legal services in cases of domestic violence. The House supported Baroness Scotland of Asthal's (Labour) Amendment Two in Clause One requesting that: '...the Lord Chancellor must ensure that victims of domestic violence are able to access civil legal services in accordance with the financial eligibility criteria in Section 20 (financial resources).' The vote resulted in a government defeat with 238 'for' and 201 'against' the amendment.

The final government defeat of the day (212 to 195 votes) came from Lord Hart of Chilton (Labour), who moved Amendment Three to Clause Four looking at the role of a Director of Legal Aid Casework.

He added the following: 'The Lord Chancellor must ensure that the terms on which the designated person holds the post of director are, as regards the making and termination of the designation and otherwise, such as to ensure the director’s independence from ministers of the crown ... in relation to the carrying out of the director’s functions under this part.'

Catch up on the last stage: Committee stage

The 10-day committee stage (last stage) concluded on Wednesday 15 February.

What is report stage?

Report stage in the chamber gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments (proposals for change) to a bill. It usually starts at least 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of a bill takes place during report stage. Voting can take place and any member can take part.

Before report stage takes place

  • The day before report stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.
  • On the day, amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published.

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 2011.

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.

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

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