Legal Aid Bill - Last chance for MPs

The Legal Aid Bill reaches the report stage in the House of Commons on 31st October 2011. This will be the last chance for MPs to change the Bill before it goes to the House of Lords.

A number of amendments have been tabled to lessen the impact of the Bill. The purpose of these amendments is to:
  • keep legal aid available for advice on housing, debt, employment and welfare benefits;
  • preserve free legal advice at the police station for anyone accused of a crime;
  • ensure that legal aid is available for immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence and who are seeking leave to remain to escape their abuser;
  • make sure that the new Director of Legal Aid makes decisions independently of Government – the idea behind this amendment is to make sure that the Government cannot stop people bringing important cases against it by denying them legal aid;
  • make sure that legal aid is available to children whatever the legal issue that is affecting them;
  • preserve legal aid for complex cases which end up in the Upper Tribunal or the Supreme Court.

PLEASE WRITE TO YOUR MP AND URGE THEM TO ATTEND THE REPORT STAGE DEBATES AND SUPPORT THESE AMENDMENTS. THIS MAY BE THEIR LAST CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

YLAL has prepared a briefing for the debate which is available here. Please forward this to your MP when you get in touch.

Your MP’s contact details can be found here:

A possible template letter is included at the bottom of this page. Alternatively please use the Justice for All “Write to Your MP” tool. It takes less than a minute to use - just type in your postcode and it will automatically generate a letter to your MP:

http://act.justice-for-all.org.uk/lobby/12

Suggested letter template:


Dear…

As you may be aware the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill reaches the report stage in the House of Commons on 31st October 2011. I am writing to draw your attention to some of the amendments that have been tabled and to ask you to attend the debates to support these amendments.

The Bill is still troubling in a number of ways. If it comes into force it will mean individuals on very low incomes will no longer be eligible for free legal advice to help with welfare benefits problems, family disputes such as divorce proceedings or contact with their children (except where there is clear evidence of domestic violence), or for debt or housing issues (unless their home is at risk).

By the Government's own impact assessments the Bill will disproportionately affect women, those who are black or from ethnic minorities and those who are ill or disabled. Likewise 80% of those affected by the changes will be in the poorest fifth of society. In the words of the Justice Select Committee, all this “sits uneasily with the Government’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable in society”.

There is also a risk that the changes in the Bill will prove to be a false economy. It is common sense that providing early advice to someone who has a debt, housing or welfare benefits problem can stop that problem spiralling out of control.

A number of very sensible amendments have been tabled to alleviate the impact of the bill. These include amendments to:

  • keep legal aid available for advice on housing, debt, employment and welfare benefits;
  • preserve free legal advice at the police station for anyone accused of a crime;
  • ensure that legal aid is available for immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence and who are seeking leave to remain to escape their abusers;
  • make sure that the new Director of Legal Aid makes decisions independently of government – the idea behind this amendment is to make sure that the government cannot stop people bringing important cases against it by denying them legal aid;
  • make sure that legal aid is available to children whatever the legal issue that is affecting them;
  • preserve legal aid for complex cases which end up in the Upper Tribunal or the Supreme Court.

I would be very grateful if you would consider attending the debate and supporting these amendments.
Yours sincerely…

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