Monday 16 April 2012 by Catherine Baksi
The government says it will oppose all but three of the 11 amendments made by peers to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill when the measure returns to the Commons tomorrow.
A government response to the Lords' amendments, published on Friday afternoon, signals the government's intention to restore cuts to legal aid for children. The cut was among the measures overturned during the bill's passage through the Lords last month.
The government also said it disagrees with Lords amendments to retain legal aid for first-tier welfare benefits appeals; for expert reports in clinical negligence cases; to impose a duty on the Lord Chancellor to provide advice services; and to ensure that the proposed telephone gateway is not mandatory.
The only amendments not opposed by the government are changes to ensure the independence of the director of legal aid casework; the retention of legal aid for welfare benefit appeals to the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and the widened definition of domestic violence.
However, the government does not accept the Lords' amendment to broaden the evidential criteria required to demonstrate domestic violence.
Campaign group JustRights said that 6,000 children (14% of those who had received legal aid in the last year) would lose the right to legal aid if the government gets it way.
The group's co-chair, James Kenrick, said: 'The government has the chance on Tuesday to finally make good its claim that it wants to protect children from cuts to legal aid. If it does not, we now know that thousands of highly vulnerable children, often with little or no parental support, will be left to navigate alone a legal system which is daunting enough even for competent adults.'
On Part 2 of the bill, the government disagrees with the changes made that would have exempted victims of industrial diseases from the Jackson civil litigation reforms. These amendments would have ensured that success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums continued to be recoverable from the unsuccessful defendant in such cases.
In advance of the bill's return to the Commons, the Association of British Insurers has briefed MPs, urging them not to support the two amendments. It says the amendments will 'unravel' the positive work currently being done to support and speed up compensation for sufferers.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter accused the insurance industry of 'trying to mislead MPs with this highly inaccurate briefing which seeks to prevent sufferers of some of the worst industrial diseases from legal redress'.
Head of communications at the Law Society Graham Capper said: 'The House of Lords amendments, while they would cost the government very little, improve the bill substantially, and would provide legal aid for cases involving some of the most vulnerable individuals.
'It is to be hoped that the government's outright rejection of them is merely its opening negotiating position.'
Capper added: 'More surprising is the government's rejection of the amendment to Part 2 of the bill which applies to mesothelioma cases, and the ABI's assertion that this is somehow good news for victims.
'Is it good news for victims of this type of chronic industrial disease that they will have to surrender up to 25% of their damages to cover costs, even when their former employer is found liable for their injury?'