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Government announces concessions to Legal Aid Bill

Date:1 MAR 2012

By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor

ParliamentThe Government has announced some concessions to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill ahead of the commencement of the Report Stage of the Bill in the House of Lords next Monday.

The Government has agreed to adopt the Association of Chief Police Officers widely used definition of what constitutes domestic violence. The definition makes it clear that on top of physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse should also be regarded as domestic violence, as should financial abuse through bullying a partner by controlling their finances.

The Government has also announced that it will make legal aid available for a limited number of clinical negligence claimants, in cases involving serious pre- or perinatal brain damage.

However, the amendments will do little to satisfy the Bill's critics. Speaking in response to the announcement, Resolution's Chair, David Allison, said: "We are pleased that the Government has finally decided to adopt the almost universally-accepted ACPO definition of domestic violence. However, while they may have amended the definition, they have not yet changed the evidence gateway criteria that determines whether victims actually receive the protection of legal advice and representation, when dealing with the consequences of their divorce or separation.

"The Government has said today that mediation is unsuitable for victims of domestic violence - in which case they need to amend the gateway criteria before this Bill goes back to the Commons.

"We do welcome this move on the definition, but the confusion surrounding where it leaves victims of domestic violence demonstrates that the Government needs to think again about the impact of its proposals."

The Government could be facing a serious rebellion as several Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers have expressed serious concerns about the Bill and are supporting further amendments. In November peers from both sides of the House of Lords condemned the Bill in the eight-and-a-half hour debate in which fifty four peers spoke, 42 of whom in opposition to the Bill. They are still opposed to many areas of law being completely cut from legal aid funding that will deny access to justice to the most vulnerable members of society.