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Clarke highlights minor legal aid concessions

21 June 2011

Introducing the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the Commons this afternoon, justice secretary Ken Clarke highlighted a series of minor changes the government is making to its drastic legal aid cuts.

The definition of domestic violence will be extended to include mental as well as physical abuse. This is crucial because most private law family cases, not involving domestic violence, will no longer receive public funding.

Education law was due to be taken out of the legal aid scheme, but Clarke said cases involving children with special educational needs would be included.

The justice secretary also said, on financial eligibility, that equity disregards for homeowners would continue to be applied and an ambitious plan to force anyone with more £1,000 to contribute £100 to their legal aid bill had been scrapped.

Clarke’s speech was dominated by sentencing reforms and a spirited defence of the government’s U-turn over increased discounts for early guilty pleas.

He strongly defended proposals aimed at replacing IPPs (indeterminate sentences for public protection) with longer prison terms for serious offenders.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, accused the government of “devastating social welfare law” and asked whether Clarke had considered the impact of the cuts on law centres and CABx around the country.

Intriguingly, Clarke said he hoped to offer advice agencies “something” at the bill’s second reading, expected next week. Clarke said he realised that agencies provided a “better kind of advice sometimes than adversarial lawyers”.

A draft of the bill appeared on a government website this morning, apparently in error, before justice secretary Ken Clarke rose to his feet.

Clarke said nothing about the Jackson reforms, but the government’s whole-hearted backing is reflected in sections 41 and 42 of the bill.

These abolish the recoverability of conditional fee success fees and ATE insurance premiums. In the case of insurance premiums, ministers have offered a minor concession in excluding medical negligence cases.

The following civil legal aid services are specifically protected by the bill:

Child protection

Cases involving children with special educational needs

Mental health

Community care

Child abduction

Cases involving domestic violence

Forced marriages

Judicial reviews

Immigration (detention and asylum)

Eviction and homelessness

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Costs Local government