Government’s legal aid bill defeated
Peers have rejected plans by the government to limit the availability of legal aid after a succession of defeats in the House of Lords. It is hoped by the government that the changes will save £350m.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has met fierce opposition during the committee stage but it was hoped by the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke that the opposition would not translate into a parliamentary defeat. It now seems inevitable that the Bill will face a difficult passage through the House of Lords.
One of the votes which the government lost was on narrowing the criteria for assessing whether victims of domestic violence should be eligible for legal aid. Lady Scotland, the shadow attorney general said that the government “risk turning the clock back by at least a decade and placing a number of victims at unacceptable risk”.
“In the UK two women every week die as a result of domestic violence. And every week 230 victims need help to leave their abusive relationship,” said Lady Scotland.
She warned: “The provisions in this bill, if accepted, will cause great damage. We know from a recent survey that 54.4% of victims today would not get through the evidential gateway created by this bill. A great injustice may be allowed thereby to enter into our system.”
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “The House of Lords have acted today to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are given the legal protection, rights and access to justice they need to escape abusive relationships.”