Motion to Regret

Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 27 March 2013.

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Moved by Baroness Scotland of Asthal

That this House regrets that the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3098) fail to deliver on Her Majesty’s Government’s expressed promise to provide adequate legal aid provision for victims of domestic violence; that significant numbers of victims will not be able to satisfy the evidential criteria, contrary to Her Majesty’s Government’s expressed intent, resulting in a diminution of access to justice; and that, as a result, domestic violence victims will be exposed to an increased risk of injury and death.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Labour 2:26, 27 March 2013

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for the concessions that he has most generously made in agreeing to look at a number of the issues that have been brought to his attention, and to review these regulations and their operation—and I quote him—“from day one”. I also thank him for the enormous compliment he pays me when he refers to my “ferocious talent” as an advocate and the “growl of approval” that follows my every utterance in this House. However, if there is limited approval for the few words that I utter from time to time, I hope it is because the House finds the evidence upon which I base my contentions sound and meritorious and not because there are inherent flaws. Every advocate, no matter how skilful, can work only with the material they are given. One cannot make a commanding case built on straw.

It is right that we look at the evidence we have referred to. I ask the noble Lord to look again at the comment made by the president of the Family Division that the family courts are “desperately unprepared” for the consequences of these regulations. The reason for this is that for many years the family courts have relied on the skill and assistance of the legal representatives who appear before them, whose job in family as opposed to other work is to work collaboratively to try to bring a resolution to some very difficult family problems. That is why only 5% of the cases that come before the courts are contested; all the other cases are properly, skilfully and painfully mediated in a collaborative and responsive way. The fact that legal aid is to be withdrawn from family cases is why Lord Justice Munby is so concerned. He echoes what is felt by all those who are privileged to work in this area.

I also specifically thank the noble Lord for his acknowledgement that the cost in relation to these proceedings may be increased if they are not held together. I particularly want to thank him for that. But if the Government believe that these regulations will save money, I, for one, believe that they will be found to be mistaken. The cost in terms of lives will be great, but so will the cost to the legal justice system. I am being told by magistrates that if perpetrators are going to be able to cross-examine their victims in court, the special procedures that we currently have will be inadequate to protect them. Just yesterday, a magistrate in Kent told me that that day they had a case involving domestic violence in which the woman was reluctant to be cross-examined by the perpetrator. They are having difficulties now. Therefore, although I understand the Government’s position, I still bitterly regret it. On that basis, I ask to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Baroness Scotland of Asthal’s Motion.

Contents 156; Not-Contents 140.

[The Tellers for the Not-Contents reported 140 votes; the Clerks recorded 139 names.]

Motion agreed.

Division number 3 Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 — Motion to Regret

Aye: 154 Members of the House of Lords

No: 137 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers