Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 11:00 pm, 12th March 2012

I take the point entirely. I will try again to say that Amendment 103 fulfils the commitment that I made. Government Amendment 104 also clarifies that initial assistance might include assistance in the form of advocacy. It ensures that the current position under the Access to Justice Act 1999 is carried forward in this respect in the Bill.

However, Amendment 102 would make police station advice and assistance automatically available to all. It would mean that the director would not be required to determine whether an individual qualified for police station advice, while having regard to the interests of justice. As such, the amendment is unnecessary. Determinations under Clause 12 are for the director to make. However, in practice, as is currently the case, solicitors apply what is known as a "sufficient benefit" test, which is deemed to be satisfied in circumstances in which a client has a right to legal advice at the police station and has requested such advice in accordance with Section 58 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. On subsequent attendances in the same investigation, the solicitor must ensure that the sufficient benefit test is satisfied before continuing with the matter.

Article 6 of the ECHR requires legal aid in criminal cases only where the interests of justice require it. The provisions of the Bill are based on the starting point that advice and assistance at the police station should be made available only where the interests of justice require it. Therefore, it is appropriate to allow the director to determine whether an individual qualifies for initial advice and assistance. However, our present view is that it will generally be in the interests of justice for those held in custody at the police station to receive advice and assistance in some form, whether over the telephone or in person. There are no plans to change the current system that operates in practice for police station advice. It is currently intended that initial advice and assistance should continue to be available to all those to whom it is available at the moment.

I should add that the Delegated Powers Committee recommended that regulations under Clause 12(9) should be subject to the affirmative procedure. We have accepted the committee's recommendation and have tabled Amendment 109, which we will move when we reach Clause 40, to make the regulations under Clause 12(9) subject to the affirmative procedure. Given what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

I make one further clarification on this. Subsection (2) requires the director to have regard to the interests of justice when making a determination under Clause 12. As I have said, solicitors currently apply the sufficient benefit test. However, it is interesting that the Access to Justice Act, which we are reimplementing, does not make express reference to the interests of justice, although it is implied. We are covering something that ties in to the ECHR commitment and reinforces what is in the original Act. I do not think there is anything sinister in what the noble Lord is probing. With those assurances, I hope he will withdraw his amendment.