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Lords vote to keep three legal aid amendments but MPs may reject them

24 April 2012

The House of Lords voted to keep three of its amendments to the legal aid bill last night, but the Commons may reject them this afternoon. The debate in the Commons has been scheduled for only an hour.

The most significant vote was on an amendment by Lord Alton, a crossbencher, which would exempt mesothelioma cases from Lord Justice Jackson’s ban on recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums.

However, an amendment tabled by Lord Bach in the report stage debate last month, which would have extended the exemption to employers’ liability cases involving all industrial diseases, was defeated.

Baroness Scotland, the former Attorney General, last month secured an amendment widening the definition of domestic violence and increasing the kinds of evidence victims could bring forward.

Following the government’s concession on domestic violence last week, she brought fresh amendments which would, among other things, extend the time limit on evidence from two years to six and allow any kind of evidence to be used, if it was certified by the court or mentioned in the regulations.

“The amendments that have been proposed by the government widen the evidential gateway provided by the bill as it stood before,” Baroness Scotland said. “My amendments take it just a little further.” Her amendments were carried by 239 to 236.

Lord Pannick successfully brought back his amendment, which would make it clear that “within the resources available” the purpose of the bill was to ensure that “individuals have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs”. It was passed by 248 votes to 233.

However, there were a series of serious defeats for campaigners. Baroness Grey-Thompson failed in her bid to ensure that civil legal aid clients would have access to face-to-face advice and not be forced to use a compulsory telephone gateway.

This vote was lost by 243 votes to 231.

“I am extremely concerned that vulnerable people, with complex problems, will drop out of the system, even if they make it to the first phone call,” Baroness Grey-Thompson said.

“Just finding the telephone gateway may be a challenge for some. The same can be said of the online form on the DirectGov website. They may not be able to do it themselves, nor find appropriate third-party support to offer help.”

Peers rejected two amendments, passed at the bill’s third reading, which would have preserved legal aid for children.

Lord Cormack’s amendment, which would have kept legal aid for children aged under 16 in medical negligence cases, was rejected by 168 votes to 125.

A wider amendment, proposed by Baroness Grey-Thompson, which would have kept legal aid in all kinds of case for children aged under 18, was rejected by the House of Lords by 154 votes to 100.

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Legal Aid