Access Denied: Bar Council Welcomes LASPO Concessions as Report Calls for Further Reform

2 March 2012

As Peers prepare for the start of the Report Stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill next Monday, the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has welcomed the limited concessions announced yesterday, whilst calling on the Government to take heed of the overwhelming evidence and weight of opinion against many of its reforms.

The Bar Council today publishes a report entitled "Access Denied", which summarises the wealth of research and expert commentary, including from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers, against many of the Bill's provisions. The report focuses on the areas in which the threat posed to access to justice has promoted the most fervent opposition, including:

• The removal of clinical negligence from the scope of legal aid
• The Bill's failure to provide sufficient support for victims of domestic violence, and
• The short-sighted removal of legal aid from many areas of welfare law.

Michael Todd QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said:

"The Government yesterday announced limited concessions to address some of the criticisms directed at the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. It has amended the Bill's definition of domestic abuse in line with arguments pursued by the Bar Council and others. It has also made legal aid available for a limited number of clinical negligence claimants, in cases involving serious pre- or perinatal brain damage.

"While welcome, these amendments go only a very small way towards silencing the Bill's countless critics. The Bar Council's report demonstrates the very well-informed and strong tide of opinion against many of the Government's cuts to legal aid and its reforms to civil litigation. Opposition has been voiced by leading members of the judiciary, experienced lawyers and many non-legal Parliamentarians who understand and are well placed to assess how these reforms will impact upon the most vulnerable members of society.

"A number of expert analyses have revealed that many of these reforms will actually end up costing the Government more, not less. These are not intelligent cuts. Early legal advice prevents large sums being spent on more complex proceedings further down the line. Legal aid is the most cost-efficient way of funding expert reports for clinical negligence cases. Protecting victims of domestic violence through the courts can save lives.

"Many Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers have abandoned party allegiances to propose and support significant amendments to this damaging piece of legislation. As the Bill nears its Report Stage in the House of Lords, unless the Government brings forward many more major amendments, it faces the prospect of serious rebellion within its ranks."

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Read "Access Denied - The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill: the case for amendment".

2. Read the Bar Council's briefing for Peers for the Report Stage of the Bill.

3. For further information, please contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525.

4. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:

• The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
• Fair access to justice for all
• The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
• The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.