Page last updated at 19:55 GMT, Monday, 3 December 2012

Government defeated on legal aid cuts

The government has been defeated in the House of Lords over its plans to cut the legal aid budget.

Peers voted by 201 to 191 in favour of Labour peer Lord Bach's motion opposing a draft order relating to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

The act paves the way for cuts of £350m from the Ministry of Justice budget by 2015.

But Lord Bach said the government had failed to honour a commitment made by former Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in the Commons to grant legal aid to claimants appealing against a ruling on their welfare on a point of law at the start of their cases.

The Labour peer said this would affect a "disproportionate number" of disabled people.

"No government, whatever its colour, should be allowed to get away with this. An undertaking to Parliament must be kept," Lord Bach told peers.

Justice Minister Lord McNally rejected the accusations and told peers that any further concessions from the government would "affect the fundamental objectives" of its plan to cut the legal aid bill.

But Liberal Democrat Baroness Doocey was one of a number of peers to support Lord Bach's move, arguing that the present proposals would be "catastrophic" for "many thousands" of people.

Peers also debated the government's Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2012 which set out the terms under which people can receive legal aid in civil cases, following the government's cuts to free legal services in the Legal Aid Act.

Crossbencher and barrister Lord Pannick criticised the regulations which he said represented a "substantial reduction" in the availability of legal aid in public law cases.

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