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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) (Advocacy Exceptions) Order 2014

Volume 757: debated on Monday 1 December 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) (Advocacy Exceptions) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, the order before the Committee today amends Schedule 1 to the LASPO Act 2012 to maintain the status quo regarding the provision of legal aid for proceedings involving gang injunctions in respect of under-18s and to reflect the expansion of advocacy in special educational needs matters. It also ensures that advocacy is available for new proceedings created by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act which are in the scope of the civil legal aid scheme generally by virtue of consequential amendments made by that Act to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. This order does not alter means or merits and does not bring any new matters within the scope of legal aid.

Before setting out further details about this order and why the Government are taking this action, I will briefly explain some background. Anti-social behaviour orders on application and anti-social behaviour injunctions will be replaced with “Injunctions” under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Legal aid for advocacy in respect of applications for anti-social behaviour orders under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is provided under the criminal legal aid scheme currently, but the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 brings all Part 1 injunctions within scope of the civil legal aid scheme. For under-18s, Part 1 injunctions, along with parenting orders made in respect of a youth subject to such an injunction, will be heard in a youth court and the route of appeal from the youth court is to the Crown Court.

Schedule 1 to LASPO sets out the matters on which civil legal aid is available. This is subject to the exclusions at Parts 2 and 3 of the schedule which detail the availability of advocacy. Because of the general exclusion of advocacy except for specified proceedings, it is necessary to add the relevant proceedings to the exceptions in Part 3 of Schedule 1, which will expand the scope of civil legal aid to include advocacy in these proceedings.

Section 18 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 will amend Part 4 of the Police and Crime Act in relation to gang-related injunctions which concern persons under the age of 18 being heard in the youth court and not in the county court, which is where they are heard currently. As I previously mentioned, the appeal route from the youth court will be to the Crown Court. In order to enable civil legal aid for advocacy in such proceedings to remain available, it is necessary to add them to the list of exceptions for advocacy in the magistrates’ and Crown Courts in Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO to reflect the change in venue for these proceedings.

Part 1 injunctions under the Anti-social Behaviour, crime and Policing Act are intended to address the same kinds of behaviour which are currently dealt with by anti- social behaviour orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions for which legal aid, including advocacy, is currently available. It is therefore reasonable that legal aid for the new injunctions, including related parenting orders, should be made available. That intention is achieved in part by the consequential amendment made to Schedule 1 to LASPO by the Anti-social Behaviour, crime and Policing Act.

However, the amendment made by that Act was partially defective as it failed to take account of an amendment to paragraph 7 of Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO, which had already been made by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Family Court: Consequential Provision) Order 2014. It also did not include provision for advocacy in the Crown Court, which is necessary with regard to appeals. The order therefore provides for advocacy in both the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court in relation to injunctions under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and related parenting orders.

The order also seeks to maintain the availability of civil legal aid for under-18s in respect of advocacy related to injunctions to prevent gang-related violence. This is necessary in order to reflect the change of venue for such injunctions made by the Crime and Courts Act from the county court to the youth court, which is, as the Committee will know, a specialist type of magistrates’ court.

I now turn to advocacy in special educational needs matters. Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 1 September. Paragraph 96 of Schedule 3 to that Act makes amendments to paragraph 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to LASPO in order to allow for the funding of civil legal aid services in special educational needs matters. However, as I have previously mentioned, Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 allow for advocacy only in certain circumstances and the amendments made by the Children and Families Act do not allow for the availability of legal aid for advocacy in special educational needs proceedings in the Upper Tribunal.

The Government consider it appropriate that legal aid should be available for advocacy in the new special educational needs matters under the Children and Families Act before the Upper Tribunal. Advocacy is already available for similar proceedings arising under Part 4 of the Education Act 1996 and the Government therefore consider that it should be available for these proceedings. It follows that in order for advocacy for such matters to be in scope, an order under Section 9 of LASPO is required to amend Part 3 of Schedule 1.

With that background, I turn to the reason for the order before us today. The injunction under Part 1 will replace anti-social behaviour injunctions and anti-social behaviour orders. The new injunctions under Part 1 will combine the provisions of both previous orders. The order must be made to ensure that legal aid for advocacy is available for injunctions under Part 1 and related parenting orders.

Proceedings relating to gang injunctions have been moved from the County Court to the youth court due, as I said, to the consequential amendment made by Section 18 of the 2013 Act. Although it is yet to be commenced, in the interests of providing for advocacy in the youth court for such proceedings and in the Crown Court for related appeals, we must make appropriate provision in the order. In special educational needs matters, the Government consider it appropriate that legal aid should be available for advocacy in those proceedings.

In summary, in order to achieve the policy intention that I described, it is necessary to make an order specifying that advocacy for such proceedings is in scope of the civil legal aid scheme set out in LASPO. That is achieved by the order before the Committee today. I hope that noble Lords will welcome the order. It makes relatively minor but none the less important changes to the civil legal aid scheme which complement the wider changes made by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and the Children and Families Act 2014. I therefore commend this draft order to the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for moving and explaining the order. It is always rather worrying when one reads in a background note that, as became apparent in the words the Minister used today, an order that had gone through Parliament was defective. It is hard to know whether that was because the original LASPO Act was so badly thought out that it trickled down to the implementing measures, or because the Ministry of Justice had cut its staff to the bone and was asking too much or simply because it was careless. However, whatever the reason, with regard to this part of the order, will the Minister tell the Committee how many cases have had to be delayed as a result of the defective order or, more worryingly, how many have gone ahead without legal aid being available? Perhaps the legal aid should be used to draft rather better SIs in future.

I hope that the order will be passed today and go through the House and be implemented fairly rapidly because, as the Minister anticipated, we welcome its content. It will ensure that certain young people, particularly those with special educational needs or disability, and people involved in parenting orders will be able to be properly represented at magistrates’ and county courts and in the Upper Tribunal, thanks to civil legal aid being available.

I am sure that the Minister will know that we remain deeply concerned about the types of cases and the number of people affected by having to represent themselves in hearings because of the absence of legal aid. Apart from that policy decision by the Government, it is regrettable that under the Government’s LASPO Act nothing qualifies for legal aid unless it is made an exception. It is a very negative way of describing something. As the evidence today shows, it is rather short-sighted because it means that even quite administrative, de minimis or, in the words of the Minister, minor changes to legal aid, such as these, require affirmative statutory instruments. That does not seem the best way of ensuring that human rights are safeguarded in all our courts. The content today is to be welcomed, but some of the procedures and effects are areas for concern.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on this. Clearly, I do not accept all that she says about the LASPO Act, which, in the Government’s view, was a necessary correction to reflect the amount of money that was being spent on legal aid. Some difficult choices had to be made, and of course the noble Baroness will remember that on page 5 of the Labour Party manifesto there was an undertaking to make savings in legal aid.

As the noble Baroness quite rightly said, there was an error in the drafting. These things happen. I do not know precisely who is to blame, but I assure her and the Committee that policy and legal teams within the Ministry of Justice are working together closely to put in place clear procedures to monitor all planned changes to legal aid in primary and secondary legislation to prevent any future possibility of conflicting amendments.

As to the noble Baroness’s question regarding how many cases have been affected by this, I am told that the answer is none. New cases in the youth court are possible only after Section 18 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is commenced. Current cases are in the county court, and legal aid is directly provided for such proceedings. I understand why the noble Baroness asks that question, but I am able to reassure her on that.

Following from that comes the question of why not very many gang injunctions have been issued as yet. It is a matter for local partners to consider the best way to prevent gang violence and support young people. These gang injunctions are relatively new. We know that local partners regard them as a useful tool, and there is more information and communication to ensure that they are appropriately and properly used. They have become an important, although not oppressive, part of the equipment to deal with the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

Therefore, I hope that I can assure the noble Baroness that this is a necessary change. It will regularise the position and ensure that legal aid is maintained as appropriate. There was an unfortunate slip. Fortunately, however, it has not resulted in any injustice. In those circumstances, I ask that the matter should proceed. I suggest that this is an appropriate amendment and that the special educational needs matters are uncontroversial.

Motion agreed.

My Lords, the Minister, for quite explicable reasons, is not yet here for the Question for Short Debate. With apologies to those who are to take part in the debate, I suggest that the Grand Committee stands adjourned until—your guess is as good as mine.

The Minister appeareth—no sooner said than done.