Lords 3rd Reading debate on C_YP 27.03.12.docx
As you may have seen by now, peers voted yesterday in favour of our amendment led by Tanni Grey-Thompson on Children under 18, but against Baroness Howe of Idlicote’s amendment on Vulnerable Young People aged 18-24.
The vote on children represents a major victory for our JustRights campaign. The amendment brings back into scope of the legal aid scheme all civil legal aid cases where a child under the age of 18 needs advice, assistance or representation in their own right, independently from parents/carers. However, we will now have to work hard to prevent the amendment being reversed when the Bill returns to the House of Commons on 17th April. If you have ideas on tactics, please get in touch. There remains a danger that the Government will invoke ‘financial privilege’ to over-turn all of the 11 defeats they have suffered in the Lords on the Legal Aid Bill. The Lib Dems are apparently in utter turmoil over this and we’ve been told that some very senior members of the party were secretly quite pleased with yesterday’s vote on children. Only one Lib Dem peer (Baroness Benjamin) actually voted for our amendment, whilst we picked up support from three Conservative peers, but the crucial factor was the overwhelming support we received from cross-benchers.
We are extremely disappointed to have lost the vote on vulnerable young people, which would have retained legal aid for care leavers and young people with disabilities. Peers effectively decided that a 17 year old is vulnerable enough to deserve legal aid, but an 18 year old (even one with a learning disability or mental health problem) should be able to navigate the system without specialist help . We’ve come a long way in recent years, but we clearly need to keep educating everybody (including politicians and the legal advice sector) about the needs and vulnerability of this age group. However, we certainly don’t think our attempts to protect legal aid for vulnerable young people have been in vain. As well as helping to win a concession on victims of trafficking, which the minister said yesterday would be extended to cover immigration cases, we have certainly raised awareness of the issues and it seems our arguments may have been picked up by the Cabinet Office team undertaking the ongoing review of advice services. There may also be scope for us to push the MOJ on the rules for "exceptional cases" to cover vulnerable young people, either through their current consultation on this or, if necessary, through an early judicial review.
Please find attached yesterday’s full debate as reported in Hansard – it’s well worth reading the many powerful speeches in favour of our amendments.
Many thanks to all of you who have supported our campaign and helped secure yesterday’s important win on children.
James, Mandy & Kate