Oona King

From snores to roars: a historic day in the House of Lords

03 Dec 2012 in Blog

I'm sitting in the ancient environs of the House of Lords library listening to loud snoring from various quarters. But despite the snoring I'm confident the Lords will shake themselves into action shortly. After all, the last time the Government's Legal Aid bill came before this House we defeated it not once or twice but 14 times. It's not really because the House of Lords is packed with revolutionaries. It's because the Government's changes to Legal Aid are extraordinarily reactionary, disgraceful, and hit the weakest the hardest. And on top of that, the Government have broken the promise they gave us, which helped them get other amendments through.

Liberty, which has campaigned for years on access to justice, says that if today's business is passed it will "dramatically reduce access to legal aid for individuals seeking to challenge an administrative decision through Judicial Review," and that "Judicial Review is woven into our constitutional fabric as a core means by which the Courts can hold public authorities to account... Changes proposed will work to undermine an original legislative commitment to retain legal aid for Judicial Review."

The long and the short of it is that you can't have a functioning democracy if courts, on behalf of ordinary people, can't hold public authorities to account. So even if the argument around this debate sometimes sounds techy, it is fundamentally about whether individuals have protection under law when they are treated unfairly. Add this to fact that legal aid is being stripped from people just as they face the most savage cuts to their welfare – in areas of benefits and housing for example – and you see a picture of misery building up for those at the bottom.

It shouldn't surprise us that the Government used its Legal Aid reforms to attack the weakest. But it might surprise some that the Lords has slapped the Government down. Yes, I'm back in the library at 7pm, a few minutes after voting, and the text message I was hoping for has just come through from Labour's Opposition Whip's office: "Government lose by 10 votes (201 to 191). A great and historic success. Thanks to all who stayed so long." It's not a very parliamentary term, but I can't help writing whoop whoop! Roars have momentarily drowned out the snores. And while so much else of this dispicable legislation remains in place, at least the Lords has told the Government it must think again.

Read 1015 times Last modified on Monday, 21 January 2013 09:25
Oona King

Baroness King of Bow

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