The upper house is prepared to contest legal aid reforms. Let us hope the lower house takes heed of its concerns
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile QC has a good record as a defender of legal aid. In his interview with Gazette reporter John Hyde he expresses concern over the implications of the cuts and predicts a difficult ride for the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the Lords. The upper house includes numerous lawyers with a wide legal experience. Many of them will share his view that if the effect of legal aid reforms is to create injustice which did not exist before, then parliament is not doing its job. A genuinely cross-party group in the Lords, he notes, ‘will fight’. But as Carlile acknowledges, all the Lords can do is create ‘some degree of ping-pong’ between the two houses. For supporters of legal aid, it is the Commons that remains the big worry, where traction for opposing these cuts has stalled. Carlile’s fellow Lib Dems in the Commons believe they are protecting fairness in this austerity-era coalition. Yet their ministers often seem too thinly spread, and ill supported, to manage this feat in all areas of state activity. If they did but realise it, legally aided citizens continuing to assert their rights would provide some reinforcements. Eloquent and principled resistance in the Lords would at least be a shaming wake-up call for Lib Dem MPs. Unless they rise and shine, support for effective social welfare law looks set to end.