The government has no intention of removing legal help from people detained at police stations, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly confirmed today.
Speaking at the Legal Action Group’s conference in London, he said that although the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would enable the government to remove the right to police station advice, it has no intention of doing so.
Since publication of the bill last month, there has been concern that clause 12 allowed the government, through the director of legal aid casework, to determine the level of advice available to those detained at the police station.
The clause appears to introduce a means test for those held by the police, as well as an ‘interest of justice’ merits test, which has been criticised as unworkable and undermining one of the cornerstones of the justice system.
But Djanogly said: ‘I am pleased to say we have no intention to take away legal help from the police station.’
It is understood that the clause, previously put into legislation by the Labour government, which had sought to limit police station advice, was inserted into the new bill because it is seeking to consolidate legislation.
Elsewhere Djanogly gave less encouragement to those seeking changes to the bill during its Parliamentary process.
He gave little hope that the government would change its mind on the areas of law being removed from scope, particularly social welfare law.
Instead, Djanogly was keen to see a cultural change in the way people solved their problems, using mediation and other alternative dispute resolution prior to using the court process.
He said: ‘I am not going to try to hide from the reality that the bill has significant implications for the future of social welfare law.’
The minister said the government has listened to concerns raised during consultation on the green paper with regard to the telephone gateway, and the scheme would now be trialled for debt, special educational needs, discrimination and community care.
‘What’s in the bill has been brought back from what was in the green paper. There were strong representations that a telephone service would not be suitable for family and housing, and we have listened,’ he said.
He added: ‘We do want to expand it in the future, but we’re going to do it in a more cautious way.’
However, head of legal aid policy at the Law Society, Richard Miller, was hopeful that there would be some amendments made to the bill.
He said: ‘All the soundings we’re taking indicate that we will be able to make some changes in the House of Lords.
'We probably won’t be able to knock the bill out, but we will be able to get improvements and that is what we’ll be working on over the next few months.’
He predicted that there would be legal challenges to the changes once the regulations implementing them are introduced, due to potential infringements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.