Despite Ken Clarke’s bullishness on Law in Action this week, the Legal Action Group is reporting news of a further potential concession on the legal aid bill. Clause 8 of the bill as it stands would give the Lord Chancellor the power to remove further areas of law from legal aid scope in future, but not the power to add areas back in. The equivalent power in the Access to Justice Act allows both to be done. Many, including the combined legal aid sector and the House of Lords Constitutional Committee, have pointed out that clause 8 needs to be amended to prevent primary legislation being the only way to amend the legal aid scheme in the future. LAG’s post is based on a letter sent by Lord Thomas, the Liberal Democrat peer, indicating that the clause will be amended.
This is supported by comments made in the House of Lords (see column 361) by the minister, Lord McNally, on 16th January hinting that the government would look further at clause 8 and referring to discussions with Lord Thomas:
Lord McNally: A number of telling points have been made by the contributions today. To clarify a point that my noble friend Lord Faulks asked for, the regulations under Clause 8(2) would be subject to the affirmative procedure in terms of parliamentary scrutiny. However I take full note of the point that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made, that strong and experienced legal opinion has advised against this one-way street which is built into the Bill. I also take on board-which is why I want to come back to this at the end-the question of primary legislation as against secondary legislation……There is no doubt that there is great strength of feeling about these amendments. I assure the House that the Lord Chancellor has noted the concerns; my noble friend Lord Thomas and others had a meeting with him earlier in the week when they put this case very strongly. With the leave of the House, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, intimated this in his wind-up speech, in the full light of the points made in this debate and by the Delegated Powers Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution, both of which have been referred to, may the Justice Secretary look at these matters again and give serious consideration to the amendments-not all of which mesh together-so that we can bring back proposals regarding this clause for further debate on Report? Given that assurance that we are taking this matter away in a constructive way, I hope that noble Lords will agree to not to press their amendments today.
So not a definite concession yet, but one that appears to be on the cards. So far all the concessions have not involved additional expenditure or significantly affected the number of people who will lose access to justice, and with report stage in the House of Lords on 5th March, time is running out.
- Concession on clause 12
- Concession on special educational needs
- Concession on clinical negligence?
- Concession on immigration domestic violence cases