Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 12th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 10:00 pm, 12th March 2012

My Lords, I support, in particular, Amendment 93, to which my noble friend Lord Thomas has spoken. No one has yet mentioned-although I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, may-concerns expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the extent of Clause 9 and whether it will be practically effective. One of its concerns was about the need for provision of services swiftly. Noble Lords will have read the report.

There is exceptional funding under the current scheme covered by guidance and, beyond that, a funding code. I was pleased to have been able to find that quickly through Google, if not through any government website. I am unclear, but fearful about just how closely Clause 9 and guidance which has not yet been written will reproduce what exists now.

I mentioned earlier today to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I was going to ask this question. He said that he would know the answer by now. I hope that that has transmitted itself through the ether or on paper to the noble and learned Lord who will respond. The guidance on exceptional funding refers to "significant wider public interest"; overwhelming importance to the client and other exceptional circumstances such that, without public funding by representation, it would be practically impossible for the client to bring or defend the proceedings; or that the lack of public funding would lead to obvious unfairness in the proceedings. I should have thought that that would amount to "in the interests of justice". The terms "overwhelming importance to the client" and "wider public interest" are both defined: overwhelming importance to the client meaning a case which has exceptional importance beyond monetary value because it concerns the life, liberty or physical safety of the client or his or her family. I particularly note the reference to family, because in the immigration cases to which we have been referring, there is concern about family or a roof over their heads. Wider public interest could produce real benefits for individuals other than the client, and this particular case is an appropriate one in which to realise those benefits.

We have referred several times to concern about class actions and cohorts. I said on a previous day on Report, although probably not very clearly, that I was glad to know, pending seeing the detail, that people who have been victims of trafficking will be the subject of a government amendment, my noble and learned friend having said previously that they would come within Clause 9. However, if the Government are concerned that they might not come within Clause 9, then my concern is whether Clause 9 is too narrow. I would extend that concern to a very small group of people-victims of torture. Although not large in number, both these groups have substantial needs. All this may benefit from some detailed discussion outside the Chamber but I think that it is appropriate to raise it today. My question is about the extent of the change from the current arrangements.