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Committee (7th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 5:30 pm, 1st February 2012

The noble Lord is extremely kind. Does he agree that the best way of looking at this situation is to try to find the least undesirable possibility, or a less undesirable possibility, of a whole lot of very undesirable possibilities? Those are the only possibilities that exist. It would be lovely if legal aid was universally available for civil justice, and there were people in the 1940s who thought that that might happen. Sir Hartley Shawcross was saying at the time that he thought that legal aid could be turned into a kind of National Health Service equivalent for civil justice. We know that that is not financially conceivable.

The Government are engaged in further cutting back access to legal aid. I disapprove of that because it is an undesirable objective. We introduced conditional fees. I remember having a conversation with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, after I introduced an access to civil justice Bill in the House of Commons. He asked me not to take it any further because he was thinking of introducing conditional fees as a government initiative. I agreed with that at the time. He said that the Bill had certain inadequacies and did not cover all cases. However, when we introduced contingency fees, a lot of perversities were attached. I concede that, at first sight, investment in a tort case just as a commercial transaction seems unedifying and unattractive. However, I put it to the noble Lord that all these solutions are undesirable. The most undesirable solution of all might be further to restrict access to civil justice for whole categories of potentially meritorious cases.