Friday 12 July 2013

Legal Aid Debate in House of Lords 11th July

On Thursday 11th July, the House of Lords debated the government's Transforming Legal Aid proposals.  The record of the debate is HERE and the proceedings may be viewed HERE. (the debate is opened by Baroness Deech at approximately 1406).  The House of Lords adopts a far less confrontational atmosphere than the House of Commons but the various speeches were no less critical of the government's proposals.  Many of the speakers pressed the government and the legal profession to work together to find a better solution to the legal aid issue.

Just a few extracts from the debate ......

What we are debating today is the health of one of the great pillars of our democracy and liberty; namely, our legal system and the way citizens may benefit from or challenge laws which, as this House knows well, are painstakingly established for the good of the community. Access to justice is every bit as vital to our societal health as access to health services - Baroness Deech

I draw your Lordships’ attention to some recent decisions of our highest court in claims that could not in practice have been brought without legal aid but would not be eligible for legal aid under the proposals. First, there is the Lumba case in 2011, the leading case on the Home Secretary’s ability to detain individuals using immigration powers .......  Secondly, there is the decision of the House of Lords in Simms in 2000, which held that Prison Service policy and instructions preventing prisoners from having oral interviews with journalists, even on questions of whether they had been wrongly convicted, were unlawful.  That claimant would no longer be eligible for legal aid, as he will be excluded under the prison law reforms. Thirdly, in Al-Skeini in 2007, the claim arose from the deaths of six Iraqi civilians and the brutal maltreatment of one of them, causing his death. Each of the deceased was killed, and the maltreatment was inflicted by members of the British Armed Forces. That claim, which succeeded in the Supreme Court, could not be brought under the proposals, because the claimants would fail the residence test - Lord Irvine of Lairg

This debate is actually about an important constitutional issue, as others have said. It is a constitutional issue because legal aid has an important constitutional function. It is about access to justice, but it is also about the integrity of our criminal and civil justice system as a whole. Further, it is a constitutional issue because it is about holding government and public bodies to account. It is not just legal aid lawyers who are complaining, it is judges, commercial lawyers, academic lawyers who study the effects of law on people’s lives, and indeed most lawyers who see that the system is of a piece and that taking the shears to parts of it has implications for the whole. Justice is a central component of any civilised society and we have to maintain trust in it - Baroness Kennedy of the the Shaws

However, I regard the proposal [on Judicial Review] not as mischievous but merely as fundamentally misguided. It is misguided because it stems from a basic misapprehension of the place of permission in the process of judicial review and it would result in consequences far removed from those intended and very damaging to this critical part of the courts’ jurisdiction—the ability to supervise the proper exercise of public power - Lord Brown

This debate is about something fundamental: the quality of the society in which we live. It is about the clarity of the political conscience, which must be sure that our legal institutions are properly implemented and are to be trusted. One of my great mentors was the much-lamented Emlyn Hooson, a colleague of ours on these Benches and one of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire. Emlyn Hooson represented Ian Brady on legal aid at his celebrated trial—the Moors murders trial. One of the reasons why we have been able to be confident that what has happened to Ian Brady has been just is because he had the advantage of a proper legal aid defence of the highest quality. We should let go of that at our peril - Lord Carlile of Berriew

The Government’s latest proposals, following on frighteningly fast from the implementation of part 1 of LASPO, have been the subject of sustained and deadly attack during this debate. For example, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine effectively pulled apart the proposals for judicial review, particularly the residence test, revealing it as a tawdry ideological assault on the rule of law and the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold it - Lord Bach

Is it the philosophy that the right to legal aid—and thus the ability to make a claim against a state—should be based on the status of the claimant? Is our system, with its grand tradition of protecting the rights of all, to become so diminished that it will not allow justice, where it is necessary, for all those who need it?  - Lord Bach

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally) responded to the debate.  He did not place on record a detailed response to the many individual points and questions raised but said that he would treat the Hansard of the debate as an input unto the consultation under way.  He also promised to see whether he could cover some of the specific points in an omnibus letter to be circulated later.

1 comment:

  1. This debate is actually about an important constitutional issue, as others have said. It is a constitutional issue because legal aid has an important constitutional function.