Ministers defeated three times in Lords over legal aid bill

Des Hudson, Law Society: "If you're poor... the prospects of you getting justice is massively reduced"

The government has suffered three defeats in the Lords over proposed changes to the legal aid system.

Peers backed an amendment urging the protection of victims of domestic violence from funding cuts, and others on access to services and appointing a new official overseeing the system.

The coalition wants to save £350m from the Ministry of Justice budget by 2015.

Opponents argue cuts to legal aid will damage people's rights, but the government says this is untrue.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is under discussion in the Lords.

'Not appropriate'

Peers voted by 235 to 190 - a majority of 45 - to state in the legislation that people should have "access to legal services that effectively meet their needs".

Crossbencher Lord Pannick, a barrister, insisted his move would not cost the government anything as the duty would only apply "within the resources made available".

But justice minister Lord McNally described the amendment as "unnecessary" and "not appropriate".

The government's second defeat came when Labour's amendments requiring legal aid protection for victims of domestic violence were approved by 238 votes to 201 - a majority 37.

The vote came despite Lord McNally telling peers: "This government is absolutely committed to supporting action against domestic violence and supporting the victims of domestic violence whether through legal aid funding or other means."

Peers also backed an amendment calling for the terms for appointing a Director of Legal Aid Casework were spelt out in the legislation.

The government says he or she will be a civil servant, but peers argued that the director's independence needed to be spelt out to prevent any ministerial interference.

Ministers were defeated by 212 votes to 195, a majority of 17.

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