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Three motions of regret over LASPO in The House of Lords

Date: (1 April 2013)    |    

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The House of Lords has passed three motions of regret over LASPO, highlighting the impact of the cuts on disabled people, domestic violence victims and welfare claimants.

Baroness Grey-Thompson's motion regretted that the new civil legal aid regulations would not be able to give a wider access to legal aid for disabled persons. The motion also said that the category of 'exempted person' was defined too narrowly under the regulations.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, a crossbencher, told peers yesterday that given the "massive changes", she was concerned that disabled people would "even get as far as" the telephone gateway. In a complex issue for one part people would find themselves face to face and a phone getaway for another one and it does not end there as they would be passed to second tier which again would send them back to face to face.

She asked the minister to clarify whether if a person wanting to know if they were exempted from the gateway had to call the gateway if they were not having internet access or found hard to follow the guidelines.

Baroness Grey-Thompson concluded that it would be dangerous situation if people were not provided the help they needed. These were some of the most vulnerable people in society who may not even be able to make the first phone call and the system instead of being simpler was being made costlier and making the lives of disabled people much harder. The baroness's motion was carried by 163 votes to 148.

Baroness Scotland, the former Attorney General, tabled a motion of regret that the new legal aid regulations would "fail to deliver" on the government's promise to provide adequate legal aid provision for victims of domestic violence and "significant numbers of victims" would be unable to satisfy the new evidence criteria.

She said people needed to be "very clear indeed that regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 was now to be the gateway through which the victims of domestic violence must pass if they wish to receive free legal help, but it is a very narrow and treacherous gate.

Many victims of domestic violence who earlier received free legal help and assistance to free their children and themselves from torture would be excluded she said. Baroness Scotland's motion was carried by 156 votes to 140.

Earlier Lord Bach, the Labour peer and former justice minister, tabled a third motion of regret, on legal aid for welfare benefits advice at first tier tribunals, where a point of law arises.

Lord Bach said the government had agreed to this, but then decided to bring forward a minor concession offering help to a much smaller group of people only on 'errors of law'. The concession was voted down by peers early this year, but nothing else was forthcoming. Lord Bach's motion was carried by 166 votes to 161.

Nicola Mackintosh, co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, commented that it was the strongest possible message from the House of Lords that some disabled and other vulnerable people will be denied justice and legal advice because of the government's plans to reform legal aid.