Lords vote to protect legal aid for children!
27th March 2012
Peers voted today in favour of an amendment to protect civil legal aid for all children under the age of 18. The vote, held during a debate on the Third Reading of the Legal Aid Bill in the House of Lords, represents a major victory for the JustRights campaign, which has been leading efforts to protect children and young people since the Bill was published.
The amendment – which was led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the cross-bench peer and former paralympian, and was also signed by two Tory peers and one Lib Dem peer – 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. There remains a danger that the Government will invoke ‘financial privilege’ to overturn all of the 11 defeats they have suffered in the Lords on the Legal Aid Bill.
Peers unfortunately voted against our other amendment, led by Baroness Howe of Idlicote, that would have protected vulnerable young people aged 18-24, including care leavers and young people with a disability. In effect, peers 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. There is clearly a 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 today would be extended to cover immigration cases, we have certainly raised awareness of the issues and there may be scope to test the Government’s rules for "exceptional cases” to ensure they cover this group.
Read the full debate on the C&YP amendments in Hansard – well worth reading for the many powerful speeches in favour of our amendments.