Tag Archives: legal aid

Opinion: Regina v Nigel Evans should wake up MPs

Statue of Justice - The Old BaileyNigel Evans’s acquittal on charges of rape and sexual assault has triggered various expressions of concern.
Those expressed, trenchantly by some, are:

    1. The Crown should never have prosecuted him because the evidence was weak.
    2. The Crown treated him differently because he is an MP.
    3. The case shouldn’t have relied on alleged victims who did not consider themselves to have been victims.
    4. Nigel Evans is left with a huge bill to pay his defence.

“The Crown should never have prosecuted him because the evidence was weak.”

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Opinion: Why I am against Grayling over Criminal Legal Aid

As a candidate for the European Parliament my focus is on EU-related issues: trade, climate change and cross-border crime. But some national issues are, in my view, so pressing that I cannot ignore them.  Among these are Chris Grayling’s proposed cuts to criminal legal aid, so severe they threaten whether defendants will have proper representation at all.

On 6 January, I was in Oxford to support a protest against these cuts.  Concurrent protests happened at courts all over England & Wales. The campaign aims to raise public awareness and persuade parliament to say ‘no’ to Grayling, as Parliament did over Price …

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The Independent View: Help stop legal aid becoming the new secret courts

Liberal Democrat members know that cuts to civil legal aid are illiberal. And they know the leadership is not facing a  dilemma between protecting liberal values and cutting the deficit because these cuts will cost, not save, money.

It was why the Emergency Motion to oppose cuts to legal aid (until it can be proved there will be “no adverse effect upon access to justice”) came out top of the ballot at conference this year and was then overwhelmingly passed. I had previously asked Lib Dem Voice readers to support this motion in the ballot so I want to say …

Posted in The Independent View | 12 Comments

The Independent View: A liberal democracy must protect all people from the state. Support Emergency Motion 2 on Legal Aid

Last week Chris Grayling, the Minister for Justice, responded to 16,000 consultation objections, with changes to his criminal legal aid proposals.  He conceded that someone who’s been arrested should be able to choose their solicitor; and criminal representation shouldn’t be just about price, but quality too.

You may think justice has been saved. But it hasn’t. Far from it. Which is why we are asking you to urge your conference voting reps to choose the Legal Aid Motion (Emergency Motion 2) for debate.

Because Chris Grayling is still removing legal aid and access to justice from whole groups of people, defined by …

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Teather, Swales and Mulholland urge Government to rethink Legal Aid proposals

Listening to the Commons debate, secured by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, I felt relieved that I live in Scotland where the measures don’t apply. The big issue that’s hit the headlines is the withdrawal of choice of solicitor, but there are many more problems with it including the one year residence test. As Sarah Teather pointed out, how would representation be secured for a baby who is the subject of care proceedings.

Sarah talked about the effect of the measures on refugees:

Were it not for the intervention of lawyers, many refugees would be homeless at the very time when the

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Clegg shares his concerns over legal aid plans – full transcript

I spent half an hour on a train with Nick Clegg yesterday, chatting to him about a range of subjects for an interview that will run on the site later this week. After the interview I tweeted about Clegg’s interesting answer to my question to him on legal aid, and a journalist I know from the Mail on Sunday got in touch to say the paper was running a story on the subject and would be interested in seeing his answer. Here’s the Mail’s take:

A cabinet split over plans to cut legal aid deepened last night as Deputy Prime

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David Boyle writes… Choice works – so why not in legal aid?

Barristers wigChoice is a funny thing.  I spent seven months studying how it worked in practice when I was running the Barriers to Choice Review for the Cabinet Office.

Despite the rhetoric from parts of the left, I believe that people can improve public services by being able to choose between different providers.

I’m also only too aware how many people are excluded from that – by a lack of information or advice, by a lack of transport and any number of other factors.

I am also aware of the

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Well done, Ed Balls. He’s opened up space for a proper welfare debate. Lib Dems now need to claim that space.

Ed Balls has done us all a favour. His announcement last week that if he were Chancellor he would put a stop to winter fuel allowances for well-off pensioners means Labour has joined the Lib Dems in saying we need to focus the welfare budget where it’s needed most, not keep on re-distributing from the worse off to the better off in the name of universalism. It’s why I chose him as my 38th Liberal Hero.

And yesterday he was at it again, highlighting quite how much of the welfare budget the state pension represents — some £74 …

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Opinion:The Ministry of Justice’s latest reforms to legal aid will cut access to justice, not the deficit

Scales of Justice - Some rights reserved by CitizensheepTuesday 9 April 2013 was Be Kind to Lawyers Day – it was also the day that the Ministry of Justice launched its consultation on proposals to further reform the legal aid system in England and Wales. The proposals will affect both civil and criminal legal aid and, while the changes to criminal legal aid have attracted some media coverage, the changes to civil legal aid have received scant attention.

The civil legal aid changes fall into two categories and they represent a fundamental shift in the relationship between the state and those who are affected by its actions. Firstly, there will be a residence test which will require individuals to be in the UK at the time of the claim and to have been “lawfully resident” for at least 12 months.

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Opinion: Save criminal legal aid

Having just savaged civil Legal Aid, the Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation paper containing proposals that would do the same in crime. I declare an interest (I am a barrister practising in cases of serious fraud) but I hope that this at least qualifies me to highlight the devastating impact these proposals would have.

The Importance of the right Verdict

For those accused of a crime, representation by a tenacious, high quality lawyer of your choice, as provided currently, is fundamental. Even minor convictions can cost someone their good character and livelihood. A prison sentence can cost them everything. …

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Tom Brake MP writes…Complex benefit cases must be brought back within the scope of legal aid

There is a political consensus around the need to reform Legal Aid. Indeed Labour oversaw thirty reviews and consultations on the subject whilst in power.

The UK’s legal aid spend is one of the highest in the world, with many cases coming before the courts which do not necessarily require legal expertise to resolve.

The coalition government’s aim to deliver savings of £350 million from the annual Legal Aid budget by 2015 amounts to a relatively modest saving of 17% against the …

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Opinion: Conference votes again on access to justice, Parliamentarians should follow

For the third Party conference in a row, Liberal Democrats  voted for a policy motion covering legal aid and access to justice directly contrary to the Government’s legal aid reforms – in the Legal Aid, Sentencing Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) – reaching their final stages in Parliament. Gateshead conference voted to ensure that “the scope of civil legal aid covers appropriate legal help and assistance in categories of law where the issues raised are of substantial importance.. and which cannot be settled by alternative dispute resolution” but night after night I see our Peers voting to remove category after …

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The Independent View: The Last Chance Saloon for Access to Justice?

At the Liberal Democrat Conference last Autumn, Nick Clegg delivered a passionate defence of a liberal justice system. He concluded his speech by arguing that, although these were not easy times for the country, ‘our party has fought for liberal values for a century and a half: justice, optimism, freedom. We’re not about to give up now’.

Yet in its haste to cut 23% from the budget of the Ministry of Justice and tackle the perception of a compensation culture (a perception some members of the Government and parts of the media are only too ready to cultivate) the Government has …

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Baroness Dee Doocey writes: Legal Aid and Welfare Reform, spot the problem

As one of the Liberal Democrat peers engaged in the debate on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill as well as the recent Welfare Reform Bill debates, I am pushing today for a vital amendment which I hope will mitigate the worst aspects of cuts facing the legal aid system– something that is proving to be a controversial issue for the Party.

The coalition agreement committed to reforming legal aid to reduce its costs to the public purse; it did not commit to abolishing it for whole categories of law. Chief amongst these excluded categories in Legal Aid, …

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Coming up in the Lords… 5-16 March

Welcome back to Liberal Democrat Voice’s coverage of the House of Lords, our attempt to let you know what is coming up and when in the second chamber. Think of it as your reminder to lobby our Peers, or any others, in advance of the debate. And with no further ado, we’ll turn to the legislative agenda…

With the Welfare Reform Bill having gone through its final stages this week – and we’ll be covering that separately – attention returns to the other items of unfinished business. The Report …

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Opinion: What price democracy in the Lib Dems?

Over the past 21 months I have had many moments when I have felt close to despair about the behaviour of our parliamentarians. Sometimes, like voting in favour of tuition fees, they can rightly point to the Coalition Agreement – endorsed overwhelmingly – as Nick Clegg observed at the time – by a North Korean like Special Conference. Other times, like voting against party policy on Legal Aid and Welfare Reform – there is no such defence. Last night calls into question the fundamental values and principles of our party, not just in terms of flying in the face of …

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The other issue Lib Dem peers can win on tomorrow

Moves in the House of Lords to amend the health and welfare bills have been getting the lion’s share of recent coverage, but this week sees a quartet of Liberal Democrat peers leading the charge on a different topic – the Legal Aid Bill.

Lib Dem Lords Thomas, Carlile, Clement Jones and Phillips have a set of amendments down for debate tomorrow to put right what Ken Clarke hasn’t got right in his zeal to end the so-called ‘compensation culture’. The amendments look to tighten up and improve the plans to ban so-called ‘referral fees’ in personal injury cases. Its these fees which …

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Coming up in the Lords… 6-16 February

Whilst the Commons continues to doze, the Lords continues to put in a long shift at the legislative coalface. This week, the highlights are as follows;

Day 2 of the Report Stage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill takes place on 6 February, with rumours of a Conservative-led rebellion on the vexed question of the vast array of people and organisations that have access to your home. We hope to have an article on the subject nearer the time, so watch this space.

On 7 and 9 February, the …

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Opinion: the Legal Aid Bill is worth a Lib Dem revolt

Day-to-day I can’t help thinking about the positions our MPs and Peers would have taken on issues were we not part of a coalition. I’m far from alone in that, but I also recognise the need to choose what we decide to block with care.

Right now, we need to block the main the legal aid provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (currently at committee stage in the Lords). In summary, unless amended, the Bill will take away legal aid from clinical negligence, personal injury, welfare/benefits claims, and claims under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. …

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The unintended costs and consequences of legal aid cuts

Inevitably when policy-makers design cuts packages they look at the short-term – savings achievable in particular department budgets within the spending review period. More holistic assessments, looking at where other public services ‘pick up the tab’ for another budget’s austerity measures, and the ‘displaced demand’ or ‘knock on costs’ that arise, are left for another day. This has been brought home with the Government’s legal aid reforms now before Parliament; an Independent report from a Kings College economist suggests the contribution of these cuts towards “deficit reduction” will be negligible, owing to the public costs of unresolved legal …

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Opinion: Our Parliamentarians must fight for our benefits policies

It was rather disappointing last week reading Jenny Willot MP’s article on LDV last week about the Harrington report and about the motion on the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which was unanimously passed at autumn conference.

The article seems to imply that, by accepting the Harrington recommendations, the government is complying with the ESA motion and that a big round of applause is in order. We spotted a problem, passed a motion about it and then our ministers and MPs fixed it. Job done right?

Well, no. Despite that being what the article seems to imply, the situation is far from resolved.

By fully …

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The Independent View: And then there was one… (Unmasked! The only backbench Lib Dem MP 100% loyal to the Coalition)

When a quarter of the parliamentary Conservative party rebels, everyone sits up and takes notice. On 24 October, 2011, 81 Conservative MPs defied a three-line whip to vote in favour of an EU referendum: cue a blaze of negative publicity for David Cameron and the Tory party whips.

But a week or so later one-quarter of Lib Dem MPs rebelled, and (almost) no one noticed. In nine separate votes on 1 and 2 November, a total of 14 Lib Dem MPs voted against various aspects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The largest …

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Opinion: Criminalising squatting

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Bill has returned to the House of Commons this week. The problems with the Government’s proposed Legal Aid reforms have been apparent for a while. Some people will see their access to justice seriously curtailed, while the courts are likely to silt up with inexpert litigants-in-person. The chances of any money being saved – when considered in the round – are limited. In this context it is good to see reports that Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Mike Crockart are tabling amendments to seek to address some of the most …

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Opinion: Lib Dems need to wake up to drastic implications of legal aid cuts

Lib Dem Voice last week featured a brief post on the Coalition’s plans for legal aid reform. But this is an important change that’s been passed with barely a murmur from any Lib Dem MPs, when in fact it strikes at a principle at the heart of the party – civil liberties.

The bill in which this change is contained, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, is currently making its way through the House of Commons. For something that will have fairly drastic effects on many people’s access to justice there has been relatively little talk …

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Opinion: Legal Aid – the new NHS?

The aspect of Conference I most value is the opportunity to hear first hand from Ministers, MPs and Lords the thought processes and details of what we are doing in Government and to see them listen to the feedback from those who are delivering the relevant services on the ground.

A fringe debate on the NHS I attended this week was a great example of that – an open, constructive, intelligent exchange of differing views which left a clear sense that our party in government is listening and acting and has a plan.

Contrast that with the fringe meeting convened by

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Lib Dem lawyers attack legal aid plans

Political Scrapbook this weekend has an open letter from Alistair Webster, the chair of the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association, attacking plans for legal aid:

If the true aim is to leave a skeleton and third rate public legal system, the government should make that clear and we can judge it accordingly … I, for one, do not wish to be ashamed of the Party which I have supported since its foundation. This Bill is dire.

It’s a rather odd letter in some ways – both in its over-the-top rhetoric that is far more likely to put up the backs of the …

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Opinion: Access to justice – why Liberal Democrats should not sit on the sidelines

Next week the Government will announce legislation to reform legal aid, following a Green Paper published last November to which the Ministry of Justice received an unprecedented 5,000 responses. Whilst “legal aid reform” was in the Coalition Agreement, the scale of proposed changes has taken many aback – in order to cut the legal aid budget by £350million, Justice Ministers propose taking whole categories of law related problems out legal aid entitlement – housing and debt problems, welfare benefit issues, employment law issues, immigration cases, consumer law problems, education cases and private family law issues (eg divorce and …

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