Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ministers urged to move on traveller legal aid

A Liberal Democrat peer has called on the government to restore legal aid to Gypsies and travellers for issues relating to their accommodation.

Lord Avebury proposed a series of amendments to the Legal Aid Bill to that effect, on day five of report stage of the bill on 24 January 2012.

The peer argued that the bill, as it stands, would have a "catastrophic effect" on the provision of advice and representation to the groups, for cases involving eviction from unauthorised and rented sites, high court and county court planning cases and homelessness.

Several peers supported Lord Avebury's bid, including the Earl of Listowel, a crossbench peer, who warned of the impact on traveller children of continually moving home.

"Displacements risk undermining the education of traveller children, excluding them from society, and contributing to a cycle of generational failure," he said, urging ministers to accept the amendment.

Labour's Baroness Turner of Camden claimed local authorities failed to take into account human rights considerations and follow a "proper and reasonable process" in relation to traveller sites.

She warned that Gypsies and travellers would end up homeless if they became involved in high court cases without access to legal aid.

"These people deserve our support and consideration," she said.

Shadow justice minister Lord Bach denounced the proposed legal aid cuts as "malicious" and seeming to "deliberately and uniquely target a group...that is one of the most marginalised in our country".

He claimed the press "delighted" in portraying travellers as "villains" or as an "irredeemably alien culture", whilst politicians had failed in helping them preserve their way of life and in providing housing.

Legal aid played an important part in gaining "what benefits the community has", and it would be tragic if it was taken away, he concluded.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness defended the government's position, saying legal aid would remain for anyone at immediate risk of losing their home.

However, he went on, it was not appropriate for the taxpayer to pay for individuals trying to resist removal from sites they were are "unarguably" on that site as a trespasser.

The amendment was withdrawn at the end of the debate.

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