§ 3.24 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations, 1964, a draft of which was laid before your Lordships' House on the 4th November, be approved. As your Lordships are aware, legal aid is now available for nearly all kinds of civil proceedings in the ordinary courts, including domestic proceedings in the magistrates' courts, for which it became available in May, 1961. It is not, however, yet available for one most important category of case in those courts: I refer to cases concerning the care and protection of children and young persons.
The extension of the legal aid scheme for these cases was strongly advocated by the Committee on Children and Young Persons, which, under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, reported in 1960. It was also strongly recommended by the Legal Aid Advisory Committee, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is Chairman. As that Committee said in its Report for 1962–63, the lack of legal aid is apt to place both children and their parents at a grave disadvantage in some cases in the juvenile courts. The cases are of great importance, since the court's decision may result in families being permanently or temporarily broken up, a circumstance which may have grave consequences to the family and where, it may be added, a basic civil liberty is concerned. The Committee observed further that the children and their parents are often, owing to their poor education and agitated state of mind, quite unable to put their cases properly, so that an important point may be missed by the court for lack of knowledge.
936 My Lords, I cannot think of any kind of civil case which has to be heard in our courts for which there may be a greater need for the proper representation of the parties. The cost of this extension was estimated by the Advisory Committee at £34,000 a year. I think that that was, if anything, perhaps a cautious estimate, because the evidence before the Committee was to the effect that there are rather fewer than 9,000 of these cases a year and that legal aid would probably be granted in about 500 of them. The estimate of £34,000 is based on an estimate of there being legal aid in 2,000 of such cases; so I think, as I say, that the figure given is rather on the cautious side. But I adopt the estimate, and I suggest that a sum of that order would be a small price to pay when one considers the great importance of ensuring the welfare of children in these sad cases.
The Draft Regulations do two things. Regulation 2 makes legal aid available for care and protection cases. Regulation 3 is concerned with procedure. There is a specially expeditious proceeding for dealing with applications to the Law Society's committees for legal aid for domestic proceedings. This Regulation has the effect of making use of this same procedure for "care and protection" cases. As they are quite often urgent, expeditious procedure is clearly advisable.
My Lords, this can hardly be described as law reform, but I ought to say that as I understand it, if the previous Administration had still been in power they would have laid regulations in the same form. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations, 1964, laid before the House on November 4, 1964, be approved.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD DILHORNE
My Lords, I should like to say a word about these Regulations. I am glad that they have been introduced, and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for his clear exposition of their effect. I think this is a desirable change in the law—a desirable extension of the legal aid system. I will not use the term "law reform". I do not want to excite the noble and learned Lord more than is necessary on this change, which would in fact have been made 937 some time ago; but, of course, other changes were made under the last Administration, and one has to be sure that the administrative machine is able to cope with this change. At the time some delay occurred because other changes were being implemented. There was a second reason for the delay—namely, that these Regulations require an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses—so it has fallen to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor to move approval of the Regulations, and indeed to lay them. I am glad that he has done so, and I am very glad indeed that when he came to look in the Lord Chancellor's cupboard he found these Regulations ready for introduction.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should not have intervened but for the last remark of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Dilhorne. We all accept that these Regulations are a good thing. I do not think I need say more on the merits. But I should like to say a word about this "cupboard". Perhaps at some time the noble and learned Lord could tell us what is left in this cupboard which is constantly referred to. This is a scrap. It is a little stale now; it has been in the cupboard for four years. It was kept there, we are told, because of the difficulty of getting an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. The noble and learned Lord opposite knows perfectly well that this would have been a mere formality.
§ LORD DILHORNE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting, I would say to him that I gave that as one reason. But I am not saying that that reason was in existence for four years—obviously it was not. It was the other reason which caused some delay. Then, when the Regulations were ready, there came the question of getting Parliamentary approval.
§ LORD SILKIN
I was coming on to the first of the reasons the noble and learned Lord gave, which is the easy one. That cannot really be put forward as a reason, when it would have gone through as a matter of form a: any time in the last four years. But on the other one, I would ask: is this a matter which requires such elaborate preparation? This change was based on a Report 938 made in 1960, and here we have the result of the Report—a very simple amendment of the Legal Aid Regulations. That could have been done any time, and I can only think that it was overlooked and was not regarded as particularly important. However, I am glad that we all accept it to-day. One day perhaps the noble and learned Lord could tell us if there is anything left in this cupboard of his.
§ LORD DILHORNE
My Lords, perhaps I might answer that point now; with the leave of the House. I did not introduce the word "cupboard": it was a word used by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I could have used some other descriptions. I do not quite know the particular cupboard to which the noble and learned Lord was referring. With regard to the earlier part of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was saying, if he will make inquiries he will find that the Law Society were busily engaged in implementing other changes, and that that was the reason why they felt they could not take on board this change at that same time.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, I am the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Legal Aid. And, since I am in my place I would say how glad I am, as Chairman of that Committee—and I know that all the members will feel the same way—that it has been possible to bring the Regulations before the House to-day. We certainly hope that they will be approved.
The work of the Legal Aid Committee consists not only in looking at the work of the Law Society and in seeing how they are carrying on their duties, but also in seeing how far it is possible for them to undertake more duties than they are at the moment undertaking; and, further, to see how the original intentions contained in the Rushcliffe Report are being implemented. Other suggestions are put up from time to time as to matters which could be legally aided, but I think the test very often is how far those new suggestions follow the line of the original recommendations of the Rushcliffe Report and how far they are, so to speak, afterthoughts. Certainly I myself felt that this extension to "care and protection" proceedings was very 939 much in line with the intentions of the Rushcliffe Report and, therefore, was something that should be done as early as possible. How early it should be done depended on practical considerations. We felt, when we made this Report, that the time had come when these recommendations should be made, and we are very glad that this view was taken in higher quarters.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, may I, as another representative of the solicitors' branch of the profession, say how grateful we are to the noble and learned Lords concerned that we did not have the burden of implementing these further Regulations laid upon us at any earlier date; because we have been rather heavily embroiled in administering other Regulations which have been laid before Parliament and passed in recent years. I would, however, assure the House that, if it is the intention of Parliament to pass these Regulations, we shall, I am sure, on both sides of the House, do our utmost to implement them to the best of our ability.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I say how much I agree with everything which fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman? I am sure that the whole House will agree with me in saying how grateful we are for the work done by the noble Viscount's Committee.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.