Residency test

Residency test

The Administrative Court has declared that the proposed residence test for civil legal aid is discriminatory and unlawful, following a successful judicial review challenge against the Secretary of State for Justice. In a damning unanimous decision, three senior judges declared the draft regulations now before parliament cannot be enacted by means of secondary legislation.

The case was brought by the Public Law Project, a national legal charity that promotes access to justice.

The judges concluded that the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was intended to prioritise legal aid to the cases of greatest need, while Grayling’s reforms would have had the opposite effect. And in an even more devastating passage, the judges found it to be discriminatory. His proposed reforms would have banned anyone who had been in the UK for less than a year from receiving legal aid.

Lord Justice Moses confirmed in the lead judgment: “…it is not possible to justify such discrimination in an area where all are equally subject to the law, resident or not, and equally entitled to its protection, resident or not.”

This has confirmed that the government’s plan to deny legal aid to claimants other than those who are classed as ‘lawfully resident’ in the UK for 12 months was unjust and indefensible.

The joint human rights committee recently warned that the reforms were illegal under international law. Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter, who spearheaded the parliamentary resistance to the move, celebrated the ruling.

“The Labour party have always maintained that David Cameron’s residence test would unfairly penalise the vulnerable, which is why we voted against it last week,” he said. “We welcome the court’s judgement and hope that the government move quickly to drop these unlawful measures.”

The government had intended to bring the residence test into force next month, but the result of the court’s decision is that the draft secondary legislation currently before Parliament would be incompatible with the common law and the Human Rights Act. The statutory instrument containing the residence test was approved by the House of Commons before the outcome of this judicial review. Peers were due to vote on the order last week, but did not do so as the order was withdrawn after the high court ruling.

The Ministry of Justice has argued that only those who have an established link to the UK should be entitled to the benefits of legal aid. A spokesperson said: “We intend to appeal.”

This situation creates many problems across the profession and for those of us who serve the profession at such an intrinsic business level. We have spent several weeks coding into iLaw all of the LAA changes that relate to the residency test. In fact this is the second time this year we have had to do it, on both occasions with different specifications, and all that work had to be removed in a hurry to make the release date for our next service pack and not hinder the changes that are still going ahead.

As in so many things, this is another fine example of the MOJ and LAA asking all of us to work at risk on things that are definitely coming in and then aren’t because they can’t work it out properly. This omnishambles at official level costs us all a lot of time and money and, ultimately, business.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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