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This week the Government suffered defeats in six key votes as the House of Lords made amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
On Monday, amongst other changes, Peers voted through an amendment which will help ensure that victims of domestic violence continue to receive legal aid on issues around divorce or separation, by extending the evidential criteria required to demonstrate that domestic violence has taken place.
On Wednesday the Bill suffered three further defeats in the House of Lords when amendments were made to allow legal aid to be continued for those challenging cuts in their benefit, appealing to a higher court, and requiring expert reports in clinical negligence cases.
The defeats came despite the Government announcing several concessions last week to try to appease opponents ahead of the Report Stage.
The Bill proposes considerable cuts to legal aid, including the removal of legal aid from all private law children cases (subject to limited exceptions). It was introduced in the House of Commons on 21 June 2011 and is strongly opposed by legal professionals. There are increasing fears that more legal aid solicitors will abandon their practices and that the courts system will become overloaded, with more litigants in person pursuing cases without legal advice.
On Wednesday Justice Minister Lord McNally warned peers: "This isn't a debate about who cares most, it's about whether this House is willing to take tough decisions about our economic situation or whether it is simply going to push the problem down the corridor to the Commons, because the Commons will have to take those decisions whether we make them or not."
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, commented: "This victory provides a vital safety net for the poorest in our society. It ensures that when bureaucrats make a mistake which denies support, like disability benefits, to the vulnerable and their families then they will have expert advice in making an appeal. "
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