Page last updated at 19:58 GMT, Tuesday, 27 March 2012 20:58 UK

Government suffers further legal aid defeats

The government has suffered a further two defeats in the House of Lords over plans to restrict legal aid in England and Wales.

Peers voted to retain legal aid for children under 18 and to maintain funding for clinical negligence cases where the negligence occurred while the claimant was a child.

The amendments were passed by peers during third reading of the bill on 27 March 2012 - taking the total number of Lords defeats on the bill to eleven.

However, a move to protect legal aid support for vulnerable young people, such as those with a disability of victims of trafficking, was rejected by 23 votes.

The government must decide whether to accept or overturn changes made to the legislation by peers when the bill returns to the Commons.

Ministers want to save £350m on its legal aid bill by 2015, arguing it will also speed up the system. But opponents argue this will damage justice.

Moving the first amendment, crossbench peer Baroness Grey-Thompson argued that cuts to legal aid were "unjust" and a "false economy".

She said the government's proposals would deny around 6,000 children access to legal aid each year.

"If we do not support this amendment we will be asking a child to go into the courtroom alone to argue his or her case against a barrister paid for by the taxpayer. It will be unjust and unfair," she told the chamber.

Meanwhile, Conservative peers Lord Cormack and Baroness Eaton said it was particularly important that legal aid was provided for all child victims of clinical negligence.

A cross-party group of peers spoke in favour of the amendments, including Liberal Democrat Baroness Benjamin and Labour's Baroness Massey of Darwen.

Opposition spokesman Lord Bach said the House was being asked to "abandon" children to a "far from understandable" legal system.

But Lord McNally denied that funding for cases involving children was being "substantially reduced", as he summed up for the government.

He said the core principle of the government's reforms was to ensure civil legal aid remained for the most serious cases, insisting there were safeguards to ensure children would not "fall through the net".

"There is not going to be the kind of consequences that have been suggested," the justice minister added.

However, Lady Grey-Thompson insisted the Commons should be asked to look again at the matter, and forced a vote on her amendment which was passed by 232 to 220.

Peers then voted on Lord Cormack's suggestion, which was approved by 228 votes to 215, majority 13.

Watch parts two and three of the debate.

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