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The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is set to become law after the House of Lords failed in their attempt to make amendments to protect victims of domestic violence.
In the final vote, Labour peer and former attorney general Baroness Scotland had argued for an amendment to concerning the provision of legal aid to victims of domestic violence and their families. She called for the removal from the bill of a 12-month time limit within which anyone seeking legal aid to bring cases of domestic violence must claim. The motion was lost when members voted with 238 for and 238 against her change, which by convention means a victory for the government.
During the bill's progress, the government was defeated 14 times in the Lords, however MPs overturned all the changes last week when the bill returned to the Commons.
The reforms will make considerable changes to the legal aid system, including reversing the position under the Access to Justice Act 1999, whereby civil legal aid is available for any matter not specifically excluded. As a result, all private law children cases (subject to limited exceptions) will be removed from the scope of legal aid funding.
The bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 21 June 2011 and was strongly opposed by legal professionals and Labour.
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, commented: "The onslaught on our precious legal aid system is an act of vandalism for which this Tory-led Government will be forever remembered. We offered alternative savings but these were rejected. Funding of our vital grass roots advice network - our CABs, law centres and high street firms - is threatened. This will expose the most vulnerable in our society drowning with debt, housing and welfare benefit problems to the full force of the law, without any of the crucial early stage advice and support that's proven to make a real difference, and ultimately save the taxpayer money down the line."
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