Backbench Business Committee – Legal Aid Debate – 27th June 2013

The Backbench Business Committee meets weekly on Tuesdays at 3pm to consider requests for debates from any backbench Members of Parliament on any subject, including those raised in e-petitions or national campaigns.

An MP must make a representation before the Committee for an e-petition or petition to be debated; e-petitions exceeding the Government’s 100,000 signature threshold are not automatically allocated backbench time.

The Committee then has to decide how to allocate the limited Parliamentary time it has at its disposal. The Committee’s meetings are always conducted in public and can be watched on Parliament TV.

The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee following representations from David Lammy MP and Sarah Teather MP at the Committee’s public meeting on 18 June 2013.

Key Points raised at this debate, noted by Gemma Blythe

This debate is heavily subscribed.

Sarah Teather MP starts by thanking the Backbench Committee.

It looked as if this House would not get the chance to debate before the government make the legislation is introduced. As the proposals are complicated, it is important to get the details right. There is a long list of organisations that have contacted their MPs, it is not just the legal professional.

Other members are given way –

It is very disappointing that the Justice Secretary has not bothered to come today.

96 members have signed the Early Day Motion.

This debate would not have had to take place if govt had attempted to make propoer savings rather than attacking legal aid system.

How we manage contracts is very important.

Sarah Teather congratulated on securing debate.

Choice and diversity are key issues.

The myth needs to be crushed that this is going to be about cost savings. This will not save money. It is likely to cost £30m in civil, and significantly more for criminal.

Discriminating against High St practices is a big concern, they are the backbone of the profession.

Extremely concerned that small firms will go out of business. It is not growth.

Sarah Teather speaks again about the Residence Test. She is concerned about impact on those who seek refuge on our shores. Vulnerable individuals will be denied legal aid should they fail to meet the test. Citizens Advice Bureau and law centres will be overloaded. John Charles De Menezes’ family would not qualify for legal aid under new residence test. No they would not. Correct that that was an important case that had huge implications for police policy.

The Government is not seeking to save money under these changes, but to sure up public confidence. There is a fear that specialists in immigration law under the proposals will be no more. If it were not for the intervention of lawyers, many refugees would find themselves without forms of care and possibly homeless.

David Lammy then makes a very clear and to the point speech.

The importance of debate should not require a vote.

The Secretary of State has caricatured this debate as being one solely about producers and suppliers of legal services. He sought to suggest that this is about fat cat lawyers and their fees. This follows a long line of reform over 10 years, and wants to make £220m worth of savings. Members should rise and assert that this not the case.

These are profound changes that would unsettle our constitution. Magna Carta says that we should not sell justice, deny justice or delay justice to anyone.

Removal of choice is a profound change, and David Lammy continues: It is a fundamental and essential right. Every democratic country enables that choice. Someone facing criminal charges cannot choose and therefore have the confidence in the person. This will lead to huge miscarriages of justice.

This is totally unacceptable to rush this through in a speedy consultation.

Savings can be made in other ways. Let’s find the savings by cheaper procurement, in the court system, but not rip up a democratic system that has served us so well. Is that really the type of country we want to live in?

David Lammy asks the govt to think very hard about the changes they are trying to rail road through parliament, and asks the Secretary of State to consider petition which thousands of people have signed.

This is about our citizens.

Karl Turner MP states that there is a major constitutional difference compared to last government’s proposals.

Birmingham Law Centre has shut this week due to loss of funding. Shelter has had its services decimated.

400 big companies will have a monopoly. This is something we will see moving forward. Vast deserts emerging and larger providers will take over, without specialists.

Cuts taken off of the legal services budget do not mean savings.

In relation to the Transforming Legal Aid agenda: One of the areas that has been touched upon that we regard as critical is choice of lawyers within the criminal justice system.

This will lead to a loss of specialist services and miscarriages of justice.

A letter is then read out from Ann Maguire (one of the Maguire 7). She was sentenced to 14 years, but had her conviction quashed, she was innocent. “Our solicitor worked tirelessly to overturn our conviction. The miscarriages of justice, under the terrible proposals, solicitors firms will disappear, replaced by large corporations that will not be able to fight prisoners’ cases. Miscarriages of justice will occur.”

This will hit trafficked children, victims of domestic violence, families and children. This is a serious impacts, and look forward to voting against these proposals.

Since CPS has in-house lawyers who are expensive and have pensions. They should instruct the independent Bar? The MoJ should look at this urgently.

“Trust people to make their own decisions and they will usually make better ones.”

Beggars’ belief that a guilty plea and a not guilty plea, going to trial, will be the same fee. Is the Lord Chancellor looking for justice through short trials, or innocent vulnerable people to be locked up? Is that what he wants? This is deeply concerning. Private companies will take advantage.

Would the Minister be happy with these arrangements if he or a member of his family were arrested?

Karl Turner says he is not a fat cat. He continues that the Lord Chancellor has showed his ignorance for an understanding of the profession. He has showed ignorance by not attending this important debate. What he should do, is sit down, get round a table, meet the Chairman Bar Association, Michael Turner QC, and discuss alternatives to these undemocratic, unconstitutional really worrying and concerning plans.

There have been 13,000 responses to an exercise which ended in June seems ambitious.

Local justice are the cogs in the justice system, alongside the Courts and the Prosecution Service. Our system is strong and fair. In Lancashire, 14 firms would cover 1,000,000 people. This will result in small firms closing and deserts of legal advice.

The Bar Council have produced a DIY guide to self representation. We will see an increase in litigants in person which will increase costs, not save. This is already happening. This is a travesty. Everything about the consultation is the easy option, not the right option.

These notes were compiled from 12:45 – 14:00.

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3 thoughts on “Backbench Business Committee – Legal Aid Debate – 27th June 2013

  1. Pingback: Save UK Justice: One Hundred Thousand | Gemma's Blog - thoughts on the Criminal Justice System

  2. Pingback: Save UK justice: the blogs | ilegality

  3. Pingback: British Summer Time | Gemma's Blog - thoughts on the Criminal Justice System

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