Irvine frustrated as Lords amend key legal policy

THE LORD Chancellor has reacted angrily to being defeated in the House of Lords over a Bar Council amendment to the Access to Justice Bill.

The Lords has inserted a clause into the Bill saying that, in exercising its duty, the Legal Services Commission – which is due to replace the Legal Aid Board – must strive to provide access to justice for anyone who could not otherwise afford it.

Disabled people are also provided with a specific anti-discrimination clause.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor says: “The new clause is a gimmick and completely unrealistic. The Government will seek to remove it in the House of Commons.

“It is self-contradictory in that it puts forward conflicting objectives for the Bill, whereas the Government has already put in place separate, coherent objectives for the Community Legal Service and Criminal Defence Service.”

But the Consumer Association's head of legal affairs, Ashley Holmes, says of the clause: “It's good because this is democracy at work. The Government should accept that it lost this one, and should take it with good grace.

“I am delighted that this amendment has been passed and I hope that it isn't reversed in the Commons. It sets out the principle that there should be equal access to justice.”