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Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1977

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 22 November 1977

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3.50 p.m.

rose to move, That the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1977, laid before the House on 26th October, be approved. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these regulations increase the financial limits for legal aid in civil proceedings, and for legal advice and assistance generally. There are corresponding regulations for Scotland, and these stand in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey. What I have to say applies to both sets of regulations. The increases follow the principle, which has applied since 1973, that income limits should be revised annually to take account of increases in supplementary benefits. In this way the limits keep pace, at any rate to some extent, with the rate of inflation. There are separate regulations for legal aid and for legal advice and assistance. The former cover those civil proceedings for which legal aid is available. The latter cover advice and assistance in all matters criminal or civil which fall short of actual proceedings.

The Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1977 increase the lower income limit (below which a contribution from the litigant is not payable) from £665 to £760 a year, and the upper income limit (above which legal aid is not available) from £2,085 to £2,400 a year. Both limits relate to a person's "disposable income", not his gross income. His disposable income is arrived at after allowances have been made for dependants, and deductions have been made for items and expenses such as income tax, rates, rent and so on. Once again, the regulations also increase the lower capital limit (below which no contribution is payable) from £300 to £340, and the upper capital limit (above which legal aid is normally not available) from £1,400 to £1,600.

The Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (No. 4) Regulations 1977 make corresponding changes for legal advice and assistance. The upper disposable income limit for legal advice and assistance is increased from £42 to £48 a week, and the disposable capital limit from £300 to £340. These regulations should be read with a third set of regulations, which are not subject to Affirmative Resolution, but which come into force at the same time. They raise the lower disposable income limit for advice and assistance from £20 to £23 a week, and make consequential amendments to the scale of contributions for legal advice and assistance.

I have also made other regulations, which are not subject to Affirmative Resolution, and which will come into force at the same time, making other minor improvements to the scheme—notablyand, I think, most helpfully—removing completely from the assessment of resources for legal aid, advice and assistance the capital value of the applicant's house.

These regulations represent the most that can be done in the present circumstances. Nobody regrets this more than I do, and I greatly wish that I could do more. But, like other Ministers, I must accept the inescapable restrictions which the current financial circumstances impose upon us in the field of public expenditure. Nevertheless, the legal aid scheme is still able to make a substantial contribution to helping many people in need of legal aid, advice and assistance. Last year, over 200,000 legal aid certificates were issued, nearly 300,000 bills for legal advice and assistance were paid under the "green form" scheme, as it is called, and over £44 million was recovered in damages on behalf of legally assisted persons. Your Lordships may therefore think that legal aid, advice and assistance form a very important social service. I commend these regulations to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1977, laid before the House on 26th October, he approved.—( The Lord Chancellor.)

3.55 p.m.

My Lords, it falls to me, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, to speak to the two Motions relating to the English provisions, which are now before your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy may or may not have something to say about the Scottish regulations, which we shall come to in a few moments. With regard to the two English regulations, I should say that we welcome them and regret only, as does the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that more cannot be done at this time, particularly for the legal advice provisions whereby persons can obtain assistance with the cost of obtaining legal advice, which in our view at least, is as important as obtaining assistance with the costs of legal proceedings themselves. Having said that, we nonetheless approve and welcome these regulations, which we hope your Lordships will see fit to approve.

On Question, Motion agreed to.