16 Baroness Mallalieu debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Fri 22nd Oct 2021
Assisted Dying Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 10th Dec 2015

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support this Bill. On 18 July 2014, we debated a similar Bill in this House, introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I have been haunted ever since by part of a speech by the late Lord Judd, who read out a letter which had been sent to him:

“My uncle, a foreman toolmaker and a strapping six-footer who played football for the works team, developed cancer of the spine. He screamed until all his strength was gone, then he whimpered like a puppy. Twenty-four hours before he died his wife implored their GP to stop his pain. The GP replied: ‘I dare not give him any more morphine. It would kill him’. Twenty-four hours later the cancer had killed him”.—[Official Report, 18/7/14; col. 884.]


Intolerable and inexcusable suffering have continued ever since, because Parliament has so far failed to grasp this nettle. If the figures on the number of people affected given in the report from the Office of Health Economics are right, something like 6,000 people die unsatisfactorily or having had inadequate pain relief every year in the United Kingdom. By my calculation, that means that some 36,000 people have suffered since we failed to pass a Bill of this nature around six years ago.

To those who oppose the Bill for fear that the vulnerable, disabled, elderly or infirm will feel under pressure, either internal or external, to take this step, I say that the fears they express are precisely those which two separate doctors and experienced High Court judges will have in mind when examining each case individually. However strong your personal view, whether based on religious belief, personal experience or strong convictions about the sanctity of human life, is it right for you as an individual to insist that your view prevails when it will prolong intolerable suffering for someone else who happens to hold a different view?

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has done this House and the country a great service by introducing this Bill, but it should not be a Private Member’s Bill. It should be a free-vote issue debated in Government time and I hope that on all sides of this House and in the other place pressure will be brought to bear to see that this happens.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
This is not a recent problem, but it is getting worse for a whole series of reasons. If the Government argue that this is not the Bill, I do not think that is valid: it is the Bill that can address it, at least for the victims of domestic abuse. I think that the Government are bound to let us know when and how they intend to bring in the registration of psychotherapy for the protection of clients and patients, and vulnerable therapists, who themselves are working outside the health service and do not have the protection that they need in these difficult times. I look forward to what the Minister has to say, and I hope that he will be able to go further than Governments have gone in 50 years of failure to follow up on the report that they themselves commissioned in 1971.
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the arguments about the Bill being suitable for this measure that have been advanced again today by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, were powerfully deployed in Committee. They cut no ice with the Minister, and I have seen nothing to indicate since then that there is likely to be any change of heart. This will mean that this is yet another missed opportunity to deal with a very real problem.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, accepted that there is a need to find a remedy for this damaging and often criminal preying on the vulnerable who seek help for mental distress from unregulated and often totally unqualified self-styled talking therapists. There is ample evidence of the harm that has been caused: the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just given us some. Victims have been alienated from their families, and, as I remember from my years in practice at the criminal Bar, on occasion this led to criminal trials based on what later appeared to be false memories implanted by self-styled talking therapists.

However, I believe that there has been a degree of progress since Committee, and I was very grateful to be included in the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, arranged with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, the Minister and others; I thank the Minister for that. It became clear from that meeting that there are at least two ways in which a solution could be achieved if this Bill is not allowed to be the vehicle to deal with this.

Apparently, under the Health Act, regular reviews take place to decide whether specific occupations should require compulsory registration. This means that a successful applicant must meet proper standards and checks, and faces sanctions if the rules are broken. The change from voluntary to compulsory registration can be made by regulation, so no primary legislation is required.

The bogus practitioners of talking therapies, at whom this amendment is directed, currently do not have to register; as a start, they should be required to do so. These people use a variety of names for what they do and might well try to change their descriptions to avoid mandatory registration of a particular category. However, a generic name can surely be found and such a relatively minor difficulty overcome. After all, they are all talking therapists.

It became clear from our meeting that members of the public but also, surprisingly, some of those who direct them to these services, such as GPs, need to be better informed of the importance of using only registered practitioners. The public surely deserve to be better protected and compulsory registration would help to do just that. However, more is required, too: having to register might make it difficult for those who do not meet the required standards, but not impossible for the unscrupulous to continue to operate. There are criminal elements to the way in which some of these so-called therapists operate, which this amendment addresses. They will still need to be addressed in addition to compulsory registration. If that cannot be done in the Bill, as the Government contended in Committee—I still hope that they will change their mind—it can and should be met by a provision, possibly in a forthcoming health Bill or, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in other legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible.

These are not isolated cases. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, raised this matter in the House last year, she received an astonishingly large response from victims and their families. This type of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, just said, has gone on unchecked for many years. It continues to sever children from their families, causes mental harm and misery to victims and their relations, and in some cases leads to serious false allegations being made. All sides agree that a remedy is needed yet every time an attempt is made to find one, successive Ministers have said, “Not this Bill—not my department, guv”.

Two common defects in our present system of government are stopping abuses being prevented in future. The first, I fear, is a culture of siloed departments: “We can’t deal with this or that because it’s someone else’s brief, someone else’s department”. Too often, there is a reluctance or failure to collaborate across departments to pass on and follow-up a problem which arises, or there is a change of Minister so that the problem falls—as this one has done over and over again down the years—into a black hole of inaction between them. It was therefore encouraging that the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, also attended the meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. The second is the shortage—not an absence but certainly a shortage—of Ministers who, when those in their department say “We can’t do it” say to them: “This is a real problem. I want to find a solution. Please go away and come back with a way in which we can do it.”

The Minister was very helpful in our meeting, which enabled us to focus on the direction of some possible solutions. What we now need from him, if he cannot change his mind about the admissibility of the amendment in this legislation, is a commitment that the issue will at least receive urgent attention across departments and, after so long be treated as a priority. In this of all weeks, it is worth perhaps saying that people in mental turmoil who need help will, we hope, go searching for it. Failure to guide them to genuine help from properly registered practitioners is allowing some to fall into unscrupulous and dangerous hands. I do hope that the Minister will give us the assurance we need tonight.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I too speak this evening in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I apologise that I was unable to speak in Committee but I have read that debate, including the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I agree with all that they said.

I developed an interest in this subject because I personally knew two families where young adult, female family members were, might I say, captured by what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has called a charlatan counsellor—with prolonged, distressing and tragic consequences for the families and individuals in question. But as he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, have reminded us this evening, this issue is much more widespread: so much so that, as the House has heard, France, Belgium and Luxembourg have legislated against this behaviour.

At this late hour, I do not propose to repeat the arguments compellingly put both this evening and in Committee in favour of similar legislation being enacted here. My understanding is that the Government, as they have said before, may be sympathetic in general but, as several speakers this evening have intimated, too often one gets the timeworn mantra from the Government that this is not the right time and not the right Bill. I remember this particularly being said several years ago in relation to the Leveson Section 40 point.

My question to the Minister this evening is the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and other noble Lords. If that is the Government’s position, when will be the right time to legislate against these reprehensible practices by charlatan counsellors who cause so much distress to so many families? In closing, I respectfully suggest that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, government inaction on this issue has already dragged on unacceptably long.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.

In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.

I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.

It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.

I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.

As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.

This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.

I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.

Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.

The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.

I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.

A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.

As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.

Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.

Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.

Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.

If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.

Serious Criminal Cases Backlog

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, when looking at the criminal justice system, I agree that it is mistake just to think about courts, sentencing and prisons. One has to look at it in a broader and wider context. To that extent, the points that the right reverend Prelate makes are well made.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, there is clearly no quick fix for a backlog of this magnitude, but will the Government consider extending to other witnesses the existing provisions under Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act? These currently enable vulnerable witnesses to record their evidence and be cross-examined away from the courtroom at an early stage before trial. That recording can be replayed later at trial, with the result that evidence is not forgotten and footfall at court is usually reduced when the case finally gets to trial.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. This Government have taken a number of steps to ensure that vulnerable witnesses can give evidence in that way. Indeed, noble Lords will be aware of provisions that build on that in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment. To take that point further would, I think, require more careful consideration, but I would be very happy to discuss that with the noble Baroness in due course.

Legal Aid

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Thursday 10th December 2015

(8 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, after 40 years as a legal aid practitioner I have hung my wig up so I have no direct personal financial interest to declare in this debate, for which we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, but I do have an indirect one which puts me very much in mind of what has just been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Despite the strongest possible advice to the contrary, my daughter is now a legal aid practitioner and, in the ironic words of Horace Rumpole, now lives “high on the hog” on the,

“rich pickings of the legal aid system”,

down on the Western Circuit.

The coalition Government’s cost savings to the legal aid budget have come at a heavy price for justice. It was predicted; the warnings were given in this House and everywhere else, and they were disregarded. The figures speak for themselves: 400,000 fewer new legal aid cases in the past year, and those in areas of law which almost inevitably involve the most vulnerable—welfare, debt, immigration and homelessness, victims of domestic violence among them; in 2014 more than 8,000 more cases involving contact with children where neither side was represented; 37,000 men and women without the benefit of qualified legal advice in family matters, usually involving children.

What of the exceptional case funding scheme which we were promised by Ministers would be the safety net? We were told that somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people were going to apply, mostly successfully, each year. Yet, between April 2014 and March 2015, only just over 1,000 applied and only 225 were granted help. The guidance given to those hoping to apply and the scheme itself have more than once been found by the courts to be so unreasonable as to be unlawful. Whatever else happens in future, that scheme has to be simplified and widened so that it does what was promised. As a result of all this, we have already heard about the tidal wave of litigants in person, who are not only slowing up the courts but drawing judges and court staff into the litigation in attempts to make sure, or try to make sure, that injustices do not occur.

Others who know more about civil legal aid than I do have already spoken, or will be speaking later, about the effects to people of the civil legal aid cuts and the extent to which access to justice is now denied to people in need. However, I cannot ignore the criminal justice system—where, of course, legal aid still exists—where the real damage is less immediately apparent. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has just indicated some of it. You would be mad to go into the criminal Bar now. Indeed, what other profession has seen its remuneration fall since 2007 by nearly 50%? Those who think lawyers are overpaid are not thinking of the legal aid practitioners.

It is surely in all our interests that criminal offences should be prosecuted fairly and competently by those who are experienced and that those who are accused of crime are also properly represented. There is no question that advocates are now much better trained than we were when I entered the profession. For a start, they have to do advocacy training, which we never did, in addition to continuing professional development and so on. However, I can still see that the quality of the service they are able to provide is being drastically eroded.

Certificates for two counsel on legal aid are as rare as hens’ teeth. The result is that a rape trial, which used always to command a leading counsel, now rarely does, despite the fact that rape is now treated far more seriously than it ever was 20 years ago. I am aware of a contested case last year in which both the prosecution and the defence were conducted by counsel of under 10 years’ call, both having been refused a Queen’s Counsel, the case involving the rape of a very young child and the defendant receiving a sentence of 26 years. It is as if consultants were no longer allowed on the NHS. Very young advocates are dealing today with some of the most stressful cases, and we are all aware that there is a huge increase in distressing sex cases.

There is the additional difficulty in some places of finding experienced counsel to take on the prosecutions, which generally pay even less than the defence. The fee structure is hopelessly illogical, with the result in one case of which I am aware that three days’ work was remunerated with £40, which did not cover the cost of travel to court. In the west country—I have said this before in this House and have received reassuring answers which are incorrect—the Crown Prosecution Service is on the verge of collapse, with the result that barristers are approached directly by the police because no one answers the phone at the CPS, which is hopelessly understaffed and underresourced, and advices are not dealt with, causing the consequent inevitable delays and unnecessary adjournments.

Once upon a time, not long ago, the best-known common lawyers in the land would still take a legal aid case at the Old Bailey. If you wanted to be represented by George Carman, there was a very good chance that he would agree to do it. Now there is no way you could get the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, into the Old Bailey on legal aid, or anyone else in the other branches of the profession.

We had the best legal aid system in the world, both civil and criminal. There were savings that had to be made and could have been made. With a little more investment in digitalisation, unnecessary hearings could be avoided; virtual conferencing could take the place of much of what goes on in court; and with better case management and a sane fee structure, these savings could have been made and still could. It has taken very few years to inflict terrible damage on a system that was the best in the world.

I am not holding my breath, but I am encouraged by our current Lord Chancellor, who has in some areas recognised that change is to be made. However, it needs to be recognised that some of the Government’s attempts to save money have been ill-directed. They must be reviewed and repaired before hopelessly irreparable damage is done.

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

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Monday 21st July 2014

(9 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I intervene briefly. I have deep unease about this clause for a number of reasons that have already been given by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Deben. I hope that the Minister will be able to help me further.

I do not like mandatory sentences. As someone who has practised in the courts for 40 years on both sides, I have seen a great many cases involving knives. I have seen the consequences of them and I have dealt with many people whose lives have been devastated by their use. However, mandatory sentences lead inevitably, in a very small number of cases perhaps, to injustice. There must always be a proper discretion for the judge who hears the facts and sees the people involved to make the right decision on sentencing. I do not like gesture politics either, and sometimes as a result of pressure we are led to amendments in this House which are not going to be the right route to getting the best result.

I should be grateful if the Minister could help us about the discretion currently contained in the clause. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, interpreted the word “particular” in Clause 25(2B) as something exceptional. I would like to know whether he is right. Could “particular circumstances” of the first offence not be the circumstances which relate to the offender and therefore allow judicial discretion to be exercised? It would seem wholly wrong if the circumstances of the first offence were relatively trivial. I can think of an occasion when someone came to see me in this House wearing a Barbour mac which he had worn on the farm in which was a knife that was discovered as he tried to come into the House. He had no idea that he had the knife with him, which he used for cutting straw bale string. It is incredibly easy for somebody to be carrying a knife without appreciating the first time what has happened. I take what the noble and learned Lord said about the second occasion, but although we often speak in this House about sending messages, I doubt very much whether many 16 to 18 year-olds are sitting reading Hansard and taking them in. They may get around in the street. Can a judge really not take into account the trivial circumstances of the first offence when he has to decide whether to impose a custodial sentence? I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said about the complete lack of help that a custodial sentence almost inevitably gives to a young person.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I deplore the carrying of knives, as do all of us in this House. I shall make two short points to support the noble Lord, Lord Marks. First, I am sad to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, but my experience of teenagers is that those between 16 and 18 would probably not take the slightest notice of a deterrent, as has already been said. Those who are slightly older—over 18—might, but from my experience as a family judge, I doubt that this would be a deterrent to 16 or 17 year-olds.

Secondly, I sat occasionally in crime, and was not very good at it, but I find it quite extraordinary that successive Governments seem totally unable to trust the judiciary to come to the right conclusion. We know from previous speakers that judges already have all the powers they need to deal with a second offence, to deal with it strongly and to put people away for much more than six months. For those two reasons, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Marks.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

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Friday 18th July 2014

(9 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, the law in this area is a mess. It has continued in that form for so long because of a degree of selective blindness on the part of doctors, police and the prosecuting authorities but, one way or another, it is just about to change. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has, I think, earned 10 out of 10 for courage in raising again an issue which Parliament has so far repeatedly shied away from. Other noble Lords—in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—have mentioned the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Nicklinson and Lamb cases. The references that some noble Lords have made about hoping to be able to stop the Bill later indicate that the full implications of that judgment are not being appreciated. There is a strong probability that on the very next appeal on this issue, the relevant provisions of the Suicide Act will be found inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides the right to private and family life.

In the Nicklinson case, two of the five justices would have made the declaration there and then; the other three said that they would prefer to give Parliament an opportunity to decide on it first. This is that opportunity. If we do not take it, it will not be long before there will be a declaration of incompatibility, and the Government will then be forced to bring forward legislation under pressure and in haste. This is our opportunity to legislate carefully and with proper consideration.

I support the Bill. If and when I know that I am close to death, I want to know that a provision such as this is available to me, whether or not I decide to use it in the end. So, I believe, do the majority of people in this country. This is a measure whose time has come. It may be a strong word but I believe that the law at present is cruel. The many letters that I have had illustrate that all too clearly, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in the powerful letter that he read to us. To say to a dying person, a mentally competent adult, “You must continue to suffer unbearable indignity or pain, which defies respite, for as long as it takes despite your clear and settled wish to end your life”, is to deliberately cause unnecessary suffering. That is the definition of cruelty.

Nor do I believe that the prolonging of suffering for one individual can possibly be justified by concern for possible vulnerable people elsewhere, who might be put under pressure from unscrupulous relatives—the vultures to which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred—to do the same, by feeling that they are a burden to others. I have no doubt that there are such people now, as the law stands, but rejecting the Bill will do nothing for those vulnerable people or their situation. If there is a solution to that problem it must surely lie, if it is possible, in changing society’s attitudes to the old, the disabled and the vulnerable. Perhaps that is beginning to happen, but all too slowly.

Would the Bill make their position worse? If there is evidence of people now buying one-way tickets to Switzerland for their old relatives, or calling in a man from Exit—or referring them, as they can so easily do, to the internet—to polish off vulnerable relatives, I have not heard of it. However, that would be a great deal easier to organise than going through the hoops and hurdles of this very modest Bill. That old friend, the slippery slope, has been raised far too many times but I cannot see any gradient in the Bill or scope for extension. Indeed, any of the other categories that people have mentioned would require primary legislation, which would no doubt be informed by the way that this limited measure works in practice.

Like others, I admire those who offer palliative care and the wonderful work of the hospices but for some, those simply cannot provide the answer or the relief from suffering. I also respect those who have spoken from strong religious belief of the sanctity of life, but they should not try to impose their certainties on others who do not share them. If you do not like it, you do not have to have anything at all to do with it. Of course, in many cases we cannot choose the way that we die. Perhaps many of us are hoping to die quietly in our beds, with our family around us, or we may expire from emotional exhaustion after listening to 128 excellent speeches on the hottest day of the year. Yet it must be a right, when possible, to let dying people choose the time and the place. While 70% of us want to die at home, sadly, only 18% manage to do so currently. We should be trying to change that. Experience has shown that relatively few people will choose to use this provision but the fact that it is there will give great comfort to many, of whom I am one.

Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2012

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Monday 3rd December 2012

(11 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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My Lords, I, too, am not a lawyer. I think that the noble Lord is asking what comes next, and that relates to the second order, not the first one, which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, asked about. I will try to cover the point which he has raised when I get to that.

As I said, there was never any attempt on our part to change the rules as far as judicial review was concerned. However, when a former Lord Chancellor, a former Lord Chief Justice and a former Attorney General tell you that it needs clearing up, I think it is only wise to see whether it can be cleared up, and that is what we will do.

Moving on, I have explained in detail how we have listened to the concerns of this House—in particular, in extending legal aid in welfare areas. I have never hidden the fact that the LASPO Bill was a very difficult Bill involving some difficult choices. I can remember answering questions at this Dispatch Box two years ago, when we first launched the consultation. I said then that, if you have a system which is targeted to help the poorest and most disadvantaged in your society and you are forced to make cuts in that system, you are going to affect the poorest and most disadvantaged in your society. I have never hidden that fact.

The idea that LASPO was nothing other than a very difficult Bill is again before this House. Many of the arguments that have been deployed tonight were deployed during the passage of that Bill. However, I remind this House that the LASPO Bill is now an Act that went through both Houses of Parliament and carries with it financial implications that have to be considered when discussing any changes to it. There is no infinite pot of money available and we have to think very carefully about how taxpayer-funded money is spent. The Bill was therefore designed to ensure that public funding remains available for the most serious cases and for those who need it most. In making hard decisions and tough choices, we have listened to the concerns of some of the very same Peers who have spoken today, and we made changes during the passage of the LASPO Bill.

Not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, claims that the Government have not listened. I take this opportunity to set the record straight. I remind the House of the Government’s original proposal following the consultation on Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales. Our response to the consultation stated that,

“it remains the Government’s view that legal aid should be removed for welfare benefits cases, as proposed in the consultation. However, it will be retained for judicial review of welfare benefit decisions, and for claims about welfare benefits relating to a contravention of the Equality Act 2010 that are currently funded, as proposed in the consultation”.

That was our starting point. Since then, we have moved considerably from that position in response to arguments deployed in both Houses. During ping-pong on the LASPO Bill, having listened carefully to the arguments, we agreed to make available legal aid for advice and assistance for welfare benefit appeals on a point of law in the Upper Tribunal, including for applications made to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal. In addition, we agreed to make legal aid available for advice, assistance and representation for welfare benefit onward appeals in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The order before us today makes a further concession which is not insignificant.

It may be helpful if I illustrate how this will work. An individual will make an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against an administrative decision of a public authority. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the claimant can request a statement of reasons for the decision. The appellant can then apply to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. At this point, the First-tier Tribunal must consider whether to review its own decision if it considers that it has erred in law, and legal aid for advice and assistance will now be available in relation to that review. If the tribunal decides not to review, the next step is for the First-tier Tribunal to decide whether to grant or refuse permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. Where the tribunal refuses permission to appeal, the appellant can then apply directly to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal. Again, legal aid will be available for an application for this stage of the process. If permission is granted by the Upper Tribunal, then legal aid is again available for the substantive appeal before the Upper Tribunal.

Therefore, it is wrong and misleading to suggest that we are not making legal aid available in respect of points of law. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we considered this matter in great detail following the debates during the passage of the Bill. We have explored every possible option to find a workable solution. Our considered assessment is that other methods of independent verification would have proved unworkable. We did consider the CAB proposals but we felt that they would create unreasonable cost and administrative burden. The cost is important. We have never tried to hide the fact that part of the exercise was for legal aid to make a contribution to the cuts in the spending review for the Ministry of Justice, a department which spends money only on prisons, probation, court services and legal aid. The proposals would have placed burdens on the successor to the Legal Services Commission, the tribunal judiciary and the Department for Work and Pensions.

In the Government’s impact assessment we identified that, in 2009-10, we funded 135,000 instances of welfare benefits legal advice. If the judiciary had to consider up to 135,000 interlocutory applications for legal aid, the impact on the tribunal service would be severe, and it could lead to serious delays in the resolution of other cases. Similarly, if the Department for Work and Pensions or the successor to the Legal Services Commission had to consider that large number of cases before they could be funded, it would result in a significant extra administrative and cost burden. We do not believe it right to impose these additional burdens in the current economic climate.

We have therefore decided on the approach set out in the order. This would impose no additional burdens on the tribunal judiciary because it must already consider whether to conduct a review on receipt of an application for permission to appeal against a finding of the First-tier Tribunal. The tribunal can conduct a review only if it is satisfied that there has been an error of law in the First-tier Tribunal’s decision.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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If the position is, as we have heard during this debate, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, a former Lord Chancellor, and my noble friend Lord Bach, a Queen’s Counsel, cannot agree on the interpretation of the wording of Article 3 of this order, is it not clear that people who have no legal qualification and are going to have to look at it to see whether they can obtain legal aid are going to be completely mystified? Whatever the merits or otherwise of the order which the Minister is addressing now, this is badly drafted, unclear and needs to be looked at again.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally
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I do not accept that. I accept that the lawyers may have glossed the patch a little, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, acknowledged. We are discussing various complex matters of its operation. I go back to the point that our initial intention was to take welfare out of legal aid—something that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has opposed from the very beginning; I understand and appreciate that. That does not take away the fact that we have argued our case through both Houses of Parliament and put an Act on to the statute book. This is about implementing that Act.

It is clear that the Government have listened. We have compromised. However, we can go no further with concessions which impact the fundamental objectives of our reform: to focus legal aid on the highest-priority cases while delivering the essential savings needed to address the deficit which is threatening this country’s stability.

I was at a conference the other day where the noble Lord, Lord Bach, used a term which he may have been saving up for his final remarks. He said that next year we face a “perfect storm” in terms of welfare, in that we are indeed carrying through the LASPO reforms and the welfare reforms at the same time. That is going to introduce strain. However, the perfect storm would be if we lost control of our currency and economy, and if we lost markets. That is when the people whom we have heard about today, whom people want to protect, would really feel the full blast of economic problems. We are trying to—

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Wednesday 7th March 2012

(12 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My Lords, I intervene very briefly to go back to the first of the speeches on this group, which have contained a number of powerful offerings, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. He was kind enough to write to me and others setting out the figures that he gave in his speech. I found what he had to say deeply disturbing and something that I hope that the Minister will be able to help us with. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, is right, it appears that the Government did not do their figures correctly when the measures were introduced. These cuts, which are clearly very painful, are being advertised to the public and to this House as ones which will save money, but it is abundantly clear that when the figures are done properly—there has been no suggestion yet from the Government that the noble and learned Lord’s figures are incorrect—the proposals in Clause 45 will cost the country money. That is the basis on which we are going through this very painful exercise. I want to hear from the Minister how the Government can possibly justify taking that step.

Baroness Masham of Ilton Portrait Baroness Masham of Ilton
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My Lords, in supporting the amendments, I just want to say that clinical negligence is such an important matter. I am told that one in 10 people can have a problem with clinical negligence. That should not happen. Much more care should be taken in patient safety. If there are cases of negligence, the health authorities have their own lawyers. If there is no legal aid for the patient, it means that there is not a level playing field. After all, it is all taxpayers’ money.

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Monday 5th March 2012

(12 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Exeter Portrait The Lord Bishop of Exeter
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My Lords, last week I was asked to give a lecture on perspectives on social justice from the Old Testament. We found ourselves deep in the prophet Amos. If your Lordships are looking for some edifying and deeply challenging Lenten reading, I commend this ancient Hebrew text to you. At the heart of Amos is the same concern with access to justice. He constantly attacks a system whereby the rich can buy justice and the poor are denied it. We find him thundering against those who would turn aside the needy at the gates of justice. Access to social justice runs, like lettering through a rock, through not only Amos but the whole of the Old Testament. I suggest that it is also at the heart of any civilised society. I would not expect the Government in general or the Minister to dissent from that principle, but without this amendment or something like it that principle is in danger of being fundamentally undermined and flawed.

Among the many privileges of my life is to be the president of the local Exeter CAB. I know how much CABs and others working with the poorest of the poor fear the consequences of the removal of access to legal aid and justice for those who are very poor. I heard the Minister earlier this afternoon stand at the Dispatch Box and say, “Well, the danger here is that we begin to think about worst-case scenarios”. If I have learnt one thing from my time in this Chamber, it is that one of the functions of the law—and of this House—is to look forward precisely to worst-case scenarios. My fear is that the Bill as it stands is cast around a best-case scenario. In its desire to tackle, properly, abuses within the system and deal with the unnecessary, escalating costs associated with, for example, the no-win no-fee industry, there is a danger that huge swathes of activity hitherto amenable to legal aid are being removed from those who need that access.

As I say, the aim of the law and of a House like this is to foresee worst-case scenarios and see ahead to the elephant traps. Without such an assurance as is contained in this amendment, I fear that such elephant traps could include not only the denial of justice to the poor but, for example, people acting as plaintiffs on their own account in a court of law, inefficiently taking up more time, leading to more appeals and adding to further legal costs. Is there not a danger that those denied access to justice might even begin to take the law into their own hands?

This amendment is a very simple one. It does not undermine the heart of the Bill at all. It ensures that individuals, rich and poor alike, have access to legal services that effectively meet their real needs.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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At Second Reading, I supported a very similar amendment, and I would like to support this one today. This is the single most important amendment in relation to this Bill. It sets out a clear principle that the Government say that they accept—that nobody should be deprived of access to our legal system because they cannot afford it. The rest of the Bill contains many instances where one doubts whether that principle is being applied. I usually take the view that a statement of principle at the very beginning of a Bill is rather pointless—it is merely words—but in this case it is essential. It indicates that this Government, in this Bill, despite the difficulties that they are facing financially and the difficult decisions that they are having to make, are not abandoning a central pillar of our constitution—that nobody should be denied the right to go to a court of law because they cannot afford it. That is all that I would like to see put into the Bill in that amendment.

Lord Newton of Braintree Portrait Lord Newton of Braintree
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I am sorry, but I cannot quite make it. I shall try again later.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks
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My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment, and I have very little to add to what has already been said. I am concerned too with the independence of the director, who will have considerable power over the allocation of what is left of legal aid. Perhaps I may give the House just two examples of where his or her role may be particularly important.

The provision for exceptional funding is still somewhat mysterious with its reference to the European convention and EU law. It is said to cater for quite a number of those cases where legal aid may still be given. How it is used is a matter of considerable importance. In deciding the best way of deploying exceptional funding it is very important that the director should be independent of the sort of influence which is potentially possible from the Lord Chancellor.

Secondly, Clause 4(4) states:

“The Lord Chancellor may not give directions or guidance about the carrying out of those functions in relation to individual cases”.

I am rather more concerned not so much with the individual case as with the type of cases. If the Lord Chancellor should take the view that certain areas of litigation are worrying the Government or should not be pursued, that is not covered by Clause 4(4). Although I am sure that this Lord Chancellor would not seek to exercise any inappropriate influence, it is extremely important that this new creature who will be at the centre of legal aid has independence firmly enshrined in the Bill. I support the amendment.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My Lords, I support both this amendment and the amendment that the Government have tabled. For reasons that have already been given, it is crucial that the figure who is the director should not be political in any way and should not, in so far as it is humanly possible, be susceptible to political pressure. That is not only because he will be dealing, as has just been said, with cases that may have political undertones but also because—and I say this as a clinical practitioner—there may very well be a serious crisis in criminal legal aid in the not too distant future which may have repercussions that go far beyond individual cases. It may be necessary that whoever is in the role of the director is prepared to stand up to pressures that might be placed on him in relation to the funds that are available. It is important that he should report, and I welcome that amendment, but that does not go quite far enough. The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hart and others does.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury Portrait Lord Phillips of Sudbury
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My Lords, I concur with everything that has been said. As time goes by the role of the director is liable to get more rather than less sensitive. It seems to me that the law in this country is getting closer and closer to politics more and more often, particularly in relation to the development of judicial review. Public confidence is vital. I do not think that it needs repeating as to why it is so vital, not just in terms of the judiciary but in terms of this very sensitive office. The director will have to make some extraordinarily sensitive and difficult decisions. As we all know, because we have been debating this Bill for some while, some fine judgments will have to be made by whoever is the director.

I also note that the director is to be appointed from among the Civil Service, which strikes a rather odd note. Why should the director not be appointed from anywhere? Why should he or she not be the most appropriate independent-minded person? As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, it is a pity that Clause 4(4) restricts the power of the Lord Chancellor to direct to individual cases rather than to classes of cases. I wish that I had put down an amendment to that.

In all the circumstances—although the publishing of an annual report is extremely beneficial; and my noble friend the Minister may say that because of this and because of that it is superfluous to express on the face of the Bill the need for independence—if ever there were a need for a single simple statement in what is already 200-plus pages of legislation, it is that this person should be absolutely independent of government.