Ministers hit by legal aid defeats
The Government's controversial reforms to legal aid have taken a battering in the House of Lords as ministers suffered three defeats.
Peers voted to require legal aid protection for victims of domestic violence, to set out that everyone should have "access to legal services that effectively meet their needs" and to safeguard the independence of the director of legal aid casework.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's cuts to legal aid are expected to save £350 million from the Ministry of Justice budget by 2015, but they are deeply unpopular with many peers on all sides of the Lords.
The three defeats came at the start of a five-day report stage on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
For the Opposition, former attorney general Baroness Scotland of Asthal warned Government changes "risk turning the clock back by at least a decade and placing a number of victims at unacceptable risk".
She called for a "positive duty" to be placed on the Lord Chancellor to ensure legal aid was available to domestic violence victims and for the definition of abuse adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers to be retained.
Lady Scotland also demanded that the "evidential criteria" required to prove that domestic violence had occurred protected "all victims" of domestic violence and hit out at "arbitrary time limits" being imposed on evidence supporting an application for legal services.
Her amendments were backed by 238 votes to 201, majority 37.
Peers had earlier voted by 235 to 190, majority 45, to state in the legislation that people should have access to legal services "within the resources made available". The third defeat came by 212 votes to 195, majority 17, after peers expressed concerns about protecting the director of legal aid casework from ministerial interference.
Further consideration of the Bill was later adjourned until Wednesday.