Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:18 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 4:18 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, this amendment is less controversial than some that your Lordships have been debating on Report. I am very grateful to the Minister for adding his name to it, and I will briefly explain its purpose and effect. Lawyers are often criticised, sometimes in your Lordships' House and sometimes with justification, but noble Lords will wish to acknowledge that a large number of them spend at least part of their time working unremunerated for clients simply because they wish to contribute to the promotion of justice. In some of these cases, the lawyer succeeds for the client. The other side in the litigation, the unsuccessful party, cannot then be ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings because, having been represented by the pro bono lawyer, the successful litigant has no costs.

Section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 addresses such cases. It confers power on the court to order a person, normally the unsuccessful party, to pay a sum in respect of the notional costs to a charity prescribed by the Lord Chancellor. The charity prescribed is the Access to Justice Foundation. It then distributes the sums paid to it to voluntary organisations that provide free legal support for individuals and communities. As currently drafted, Section 194 has one defect; it applies to civil cases in the county court, in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but it does not currently apply to civil cases in the Supreme Court. This is despite the fact that many of the cases in which lawyers act pro bono are in the Supreme Court. This amendment quite simply will remove that defect.

The amendment is also in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Unfortunately he cannot be in his place today as he is working elsewhere, although I do not think that on this occasion it is on a pro bono basis. He is, however, the chairman of the Access to Justice Foundation. As Her Majesty's Attorney-General, he was the promoter of Section 194. I pay tribute, as I am sure all noble Lords will want to do, to his tireless work in encouraging lawyers to give of their time to work pro bono. I know that he is as pleased as I am that the Minister has indicated that the Government will support the amendment.

I thank the Minister for considering this issue and for supporting this much needed reform, which I know will also be welcomed by the justices and practitioners of the Supreme Court and by all those clients, and potential clients, who will benefit from the receipt of further funds from the foundation. I beg to move.