PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

LEGAL ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE (FINANCIAL CONDITIONS) REGULATIONS 1986

Tuesday 25 March 1986

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Michael Morris

Blackburn, Dr. John G. (Dudley, West)

Brown, Mr. Nicholas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Brown, Mr. Robert C. (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Brown, Mr. Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)

Browne, Mr. John (Winchester)

Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Cash, Mr. William (Stafford)

Clark, Sir William (Croydon, South)

Conlan, Mr. Bernard (Gateshead, East)

Deakins, Mr. Eric (Walthamstow)

Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Loughborough)

Eyre, Sir Reginald (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Favell, Mr. Tony (Stockport)

Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)

Greenway, Mr. Harry (Ealing, North)

Hamilton, Mr. Archie (Epsom and Ewell)

Ryman, Mr. John (Blyth Valley)

Solicitor-General, The (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

Mr. D. G. Millar, Committee Clerk

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3 Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 25 March 1986

[MR MICHAEL MORRIS in the Chair]

Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1986

10.30 am

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1986. The regulations increase the capital eligibility limit for assistance by way of representation—known in the trade as ABWOR—from the present £800 to £3,000; that is, to the same level as the lower eligibility limit for civil legal aid. Assistance by way of representation is the form of legal aid used for domestic proceedings in the magistrates' courts, and for proceedings before mental health review tribunals. The financial eligibility conditions for ABWOR have, until now, been tied to those of the green form scheme, which involves a disposable capital limit of £800. In the main, that is a sensible arrangement because in both cases, the solicitor undertakes the means assessment, so it is sensible to have common limits. However, it gives rise to one significant anomaly. When ABWOR was introduced in 1980 for domestic proceedings in magistrates' courts, it replaced full legal aid. However, the capital eligibility limit for legal aid has always been deliberately higher than for the green form, because the green form scheme is intended to provide preliminary advice and assistance only, for which the average bill is about £50. Someone with disposable capital of £800 can reasonably be expected to pay that. On the other hand, the average cost of a legal aid bill is much higher, so the introduction of ABWOR, tied to the green form eligibility, meant that some people whose disposable capital put them within the limits for legal aid, could not qualify for ABWOR. Therefore, it was recognised that the capital limit for ABWOR should be raised to the lower legal aid limit. In the Administration of Justice Act 1985 the Lord Chancellor assumed the power to make separate 4 arrangements for ABWOR and the green form, and the regulations before us are the result of that new power.

10.32 am

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery): Compared with some of the changes in legal aid provision which we have heard about in recent weeks, the changes in these regulations are welcome and realistic. However, I hope that the Government will not be too complacent about the changes because litigation remains economically impossible for all but the very poor or very rich. I hope that when the Government examine other legal aid regulations they will adopt the principle applied to the changes under discussion this morning, and ensure that legal aid is more, rather than less, realistically available.

10.33 am

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East): I thank the Solicitor-General for his clear exposition. I shall not hold Conservative Members captive while I make a long speech—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] It is nice to receive cheers. Has the Solicitor-General quantified how many people will be affected by the change—albeit welcome—that we are making today?

10.34 am

The Solicitor-General: I am grateful for the remarks made. In answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), it will depend on the numbers of applications for advice by way of representation that come before the mental health review tribunals. One cannot be sure how many there will be, but the charge on public funds should be modest. I note what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, but, under the rules of order, I cannot refer to possible proposals under other regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) Regulations 1986.

Committee rose at twenty-five minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Morris, Mr. Michael (Chairman)

Blackburn, Dr.

Brown, Mr. Nicholas

Browne, Mr. John

Carlile, Mr. Alex

Clark, Sir William

Dorrell, Mr.

Eyre, Sir Reginald

Gardner, Sir Edward

Hamilton, Mr. Archie

Solicitor-General, The