Reprieve on special needs is first concession on legal aid bill

first_img Join our LinkedIn Legal Aid sub-group The government has made its first tiny concession in the House of Lords debate on proposed legal aid reforms, agreeing to table a ‘technical amendment’ to ensure all special educational needs (SEN) cases remain in scope. But justice minister Lord McNally gave little hope that other changes will be made as the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill goes through the committee stage in the Lords. On Wednesday, the fourth day sitting in committee, the small concession followed an amendment tabled by Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones (pictured) to ensure that young people aged between 16 and 25 with SEN continue to be eligible for legal aid when appealing against decisions made about special educational provision. Currently the bill makes provision for cases to be covered only for children under 16. Clement-Jones said: ‘Removing access to legal aid for young people aged 16 to 25 with SEN, as the bill currently does, is inconsistent with the government’s position on the importance of the rights of young people with SEN.’ ‘I trust that this is an oversight rather than a deliberate move to exclude these young people with SEN from the scope of legal aid.’ Responding for the government, Liberal Democrat Lord Wallace of Tankerness said the intention is to cover all matters that can legitimately be classed as SEN issues, and promised a technical amendment at the report stage. Several peers including a former president of the Family Division, Lady Butler-Sloss, a former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, and a former attorney general Lady Scotland, called for a wider definition of domestic violence, to prevent victims being denied access to legal advice and representation. Macdonald warned that the bill’s approach to domestic violence risked ‘rolling back decades of progress’ in understanding the crime that he called ‘an absolute scourge’. He said: ‘We must have a bill with the modern definition of that crime and including provision for those who may be too scared or too desperate to call the police. As we all understand, domestic violence brings a cycle of damage and despair that is deeply destructive and anti-social.’ McNally said he would look at the arguments that had been made and ‘think very hard’ about the issues before the report stage. Responding to another amendment tabled by Butler-Sloss, to provide legal aid for victims of trafficking, Tankerness said other avenues were available to give help, including the exceptional funding scheme in the bill and government-funded support provided by the Salvation Army. Other amendments were met with the government’s argument that it has to prioritise funding. McNally confirmed that domestic child abduction cases are not within scope because they do not have the complexity involved in international cases. The bill is back before the committee on Tuesday, when amendments relating to exceptional funding arrangements, police station advice, the telephone gateway and technical issues relating to the decision-making powers and processes, will be among issues debated.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *