House of Lords report stage briefing: Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
The Equality and Human Rights Commission's analysis suggests that reducing the scope of legal aid in a number of areas in civil and family law will create serious practical barriers to access to justice, potentially in breach of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
- Proposals for an exceptional funding scheme to mitigate the effect of these legal aid exclusions are welcome, however this will not be sufficient to prevent potential breaches of the right to a fair trial, as guaranteed by Article 6(1).
- The Commission notes the recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights which considers the impact of the proposed restrictions on permitted evidence of domestic violence in the criteria for obtaining legal aid for private law family cases.
- The Commission does not consider it appropriate to make further changes to the scope of civil legal aid by secondary legislation. Such changes are likely to have implications for the UK’s compliance with Article 6 of the European Convention and should receive full parliamentary scrutiny.
- We would also advise consideration should be given to extending the list of exceptions to the mandatory telephone gateway to include disabled clients with relevant impairments. This will fulfil the legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to avoid placing disabled people at a substantial disadvantage.
- In December 2011, the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke MP, and Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, gave a commitment to bring parity to sentencing guidelines for murder motivated by disability and transgender status, with murder motivated by race, religion and sexual orientation. The Commission welcomed this announcement along with the subsequent amendments brought forward by the government during committee stage.
- The Commission believes the bill could be further strengthened by replacing the term ‘vulnerable adult’ with ‘adult at risk of harm’. This would help to inform individual and collective action across services when responding to disability related harassment.
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