Outrage at government plans to fast track legal aid legislation

There is widespread outrage at government plans to fast track legislation that will disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

By Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off For Justice campaign

There is widespread outrage at government plans to fast track legislation that will disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable in society. A Second Reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has been scheduled for June 29th – next Wednesday.

In a scathing attack on the policy, Law Society president Linda Lee told Left Foot Forward the government was “hell bent” on introducing legislation that would “increase crime, weaken social cohesion and cost taxpayers more than it cuts”.

She says:

“The government has failed to consider alternative savings identified by the Law Society which would make a bigger contribution to cutting the deficit than without the need to remove civil legal aid from hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in society. This is a Government that is running scared of proper scrutiny and debate.

“They are fasting the bill through parliament to silence the public.”

In recent history legislation has only been fast tracked five times. This has been for emergency anti-terror legislation, economic legislation and Northern Irish law. Only on Tuesday, the prime minister told a Downing Street press conference:

“What’s the point of publishing a green paper or white paper if you don’t listen to what people say? If you heard of a way to make your policy better and did nothing about it that’s not strength, that’s not leadership.”

On Mr Cameron, the Law Society president adds:

“The Prime Minister has gone back on those words today by ignoring Parliamentary convention and rushing through a Bill that will end civil legal aid for the vast majority of problems that need legal advice… It doesn’t have to be tough.

“The Law Society’s alternative savings make it easy for the government to save civil legal aid and make a bigger contribution to reducing the deficit than the MoJ plan they have tied themselves to.”

In the 2008-09 report of the House of Lords Committee on the Constitution, the then-government responded:

“The Government firmly believes that all members of both Houses are entitled to a full explanation of why a piece of legislation is being proposed for fast tracking; and we would expect to be held account for its timetabling. Ministers remain prepared to justify the need for any expedition to the House, including covering those issues set out in the committee’s report.”

The coalition government needs to explain why it is taking the extraordinary step of fast-tracking this legislation through, and not allowing sufficient legislative scrutiny of the proposals.

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