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Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2013

Volume 751: debated on Monday 20 January 2014

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 25 November 2013 be approved.

Relevant documents: 15th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 21st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 7th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Tabled by

At end to insert “but that this House regrets that the draft Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2013 exclude some people from legal aid where their case turns on a point of law”.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his response to the debate tonight. It had the great advantage of being clear, straightforward and answering many of the points that had been made in the debate. It was very refreshing to hear a Minister speaking in those terms. I thank him very much for that. I also thank all other noble and noble and learned Lords for their contributions and support for my Motion on this order. I am very grateful for what they had to say, but even more so for having stayed as late as they have on what is commonly called, as I understand it, Blue Monday, which is that day in the year when, following the Christmas and New Year excess, people are at their lowest and most depressed. So, although I was pleased by what the Minister had to say, it has not really moved me out of my Blue Monday feeling about this particular regulation. When he says that the Government have a consistent policy on legal aid reform, I say to him: I think that that is the problem. To be fair to the Minister, the regulation was brought forward by his department well before he took over his new position—which was, I believe, only a few hours ago. He can hardly be held to be completely at fault for it.

I agree with the noble Lord who said earlier that he did not feel that the Minister’s heart was absolutely in this. I think that that is probably true, in spite of the powerful arguments that he managed to employ in his final speech. On 11 December the Joint Committee made its view quite clear when it stated:

“In view of the significance of the cases likely to be affected by the proposal”—

because, after all, the Government had conceded that many of these cases deal with human rights issues—

“we recommend retaining the Legal Aid Agency’s discretion in these cases, or, if it must be changed, tightening the requirements rather than removing the possibility of such funding altogether”.

The Minister will remember those words. I hope that, even if the regulation cannot be changed, when he gets to his department tomorrow he will at least consider tightening the requirements rather than removing the possibility of such funding altogether.

In more general terms, I very much hope that, from now on, his right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor will have the good sense to listen to his advice on this and other matters that affect so much the course of justice in this country. I shall not move my amendment.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned 10.12 pm.