The government will today try and invoke a controversial parliamentary rule that will bypass efforts by peers to hold on to their amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO).
The bill begins the ‘ping pong’ stage today, during which the Commons and Lords have to agree on the exact wording of the bill. The Commons will begin by focusing on the 11 defeats that peers inflicted on the government.
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed to Legal Futures that it will invite the House of Commons to invoke ‘financial privilege’ to overrule eight of the amendments.
The rules on financial privilege, used each year in relation to the Budget, mean the House of Lords is not allowed to change or reject tax and other financial proposals agreed by the Commons. The government used this tactic recently to push through its welfare reforms, to the anger of both Labour and peers who had spent weeks debating them.
The government is to accept amendments that ensure the independence of the new director of legal aid casework, retain legal aid for welfare benefit appeals on a point of law to the upper courts, and widen the definition of domestic violence for the purposes of legal aid eligibility.
Among the changes it will seek to overturn are retaining legal aid for children claiming clinical negligence, requiring that the new telephone gateway for legal aid is not compulsory, and excluding asbestos and industrial disease cases run under conditional fee agreements from the end of recoverability.
With campaigners making their last stand against the bill, a wide range of groups have spoken out against various aspects of the legal aid and Jackson reforms, including a coalition of 20 charities and legal organisations – such as Disability Rights UK, Mind, Shelter, Scope and Mumsnet – as well as Citizens Advice, the Children’s Society, and Amnesty International.
The JustRights coalition said figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act show that 6,000 (or 13%) of children who currently receive legal aid each year would no longer be eligible under the reforms.