Lords threat to public defenders

The Lord Chancellor may have to drop his controversial public defenderscheme from the

Access to Justice bill if the Lords once again throw outthe offending clause today

(Monday).In an impassioned speech to journalists last week, Lord Irvine pledged notto

allow “the opposition in an unelected body” to kill off the scheme.The idea has drawn

fierce criticism from the Bar Council which claimspublic defenders could cause standards

to fall.Privately, barristers have expressed fears that salaried defenders couldthreaten

their livelihoods.Because the bill was initiated in the Lords, the Parliament Act

proceduredoes not apply, so although the Commons reinserted the clause for a secondtime

last week, commentators claim a third rejection by the Lords willeffectively sound its

death knell.One parliamentary source says that technically, the bill could keepbouncing

between the two houses ad infinitum. Convention dictates, however,that if the Lords

reject the idea for a third time, the clause falls.The source says Lord Irvine can

either drop the clause from the bill andreintroduce it as part of another bill or cut

a deal with Tory peers topersuade them to drop their support for the Liberal Democrat

rebels.Lord Irvine has made no secret of the fact that he wants the bill'sParliamentary

passage completed this month. However, the Commons goes intorecess tomorrow so if the

Lords reject the clause again, he will have towait until the autumn to try again.