Thursday, March 29, 2012

Legal Aid bill defeated in the Lords

Good news for personal injury lawyers is thin on the ground right now but this week saw a glimmer of hope for an industry that at times feels literally as though it is under siege.

The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has suffered a setback in his efforts to cut £350m off the legal aid budget as his controversial reforms were defeated in the House of Lords.

Peers voted in favour of amendments put forward by shadow attorney general Baroness Scotland which will provide protection for victims of domestic violence. The government had wanted to place a 12-month time limit on domestic violence evidence presented in qualifying for legal aid, but the amendment states there will be no time limit. The amendment will also clearly state what forms of evidence may be presented when deciding whether a victim should be eligible for legal aid.

The setbacks for the government came at the beginning of the report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the Lords. Baroness Scotland said that Clarke’s proposals, if accepted, would have turned the clock back by a decade and would place victims of domestic violence at an “unacceptable risk”.

Peers also voted to state in the legislation that people ought to have access to legal services “within the resources made available” while they also voted against protecting the director of legal aid casework from ministerial interference.

The Ministry of Justice has already announced concessions in relation to possible medical negligence claims and stated last week that children who suffer brain damage at birth will still be entitled to legal aid. The ministry said: “A safety net will continue to exist for other more serious and complex clinical negligence cases where there is a human rights issue.”

A victory for common sense in my opinion. If legal aid was removed completely for clinical negligence actions, many seriously injured victims (including children and the elderly) would have no access to justice should the worst happen.

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