Tag Archive | "Legal Aid residence test"

Legal aid residence test to be challenged


Today, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in a case challenging the government’s Legal Aid residence test.

The residence test restricts legal aid to people who are “lawfully resident” in the UK and have been for the past 12 months. The Public Law Project (PLP), which is bringing the case, says that this is outside the government’s powers and also discriminatory under human rights laws.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has argued that only those who have an established link to the UK should be entitled to legal aid, which is a scarce and costly resource that must be rationed.

Seven justices will hear arguments in a case which insists that no minister has the power to impose such discriminatory regulations and that the residence test, which has yet to be implemented, is unlawful. The supreme court had originally planned to hear the case later this year, but it has been brought forward following justice secretary Michael Gove’s indication that he planned to begin applying the residence test from this summer.

The case has already been before the courts. In 2014, the high court struck down the regulation on the grounds that the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, did not have the power to introduce it by means of secondary legislation. It also concluded that the residence test was excessively discriminatory.

In a unanimous decision, three senior judges declared the draft regulations then before parliament could not be enacted by means of secondary legislation. They also upheld a complaint on a second ground as part of the judicial review, that it would not be legitimate to discriminate against non-residents solely on the grounds of saving money.

The judgment was a severe setback for the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and the way he was introducing wide-ranging changes without primary legislation.

However, last November the court of appeal overturned that judgment, concluding that the earlier ruling placed unjustifiable restraints on the government’s ability to control the legal aid budget. Exemptions to the residence test have had to be made for members of the armed forces serving overseas, children under one year old and asylum seekers.

John Halford, the solicitor at the London law firm Bindmans, which is acting for the PLP, is quoted in the ‘Guardian’ as saying: “In this country, we are rightly proud we have a legal system which, whilst not perfect, seeks to ensure that anyone can enforce important legal rights and enter the courtroom on an equal footing to their opponents….The [justice secretary’s] proposed residence test strikes at the heart of these principles by very deliberately withholding legal aid from those who overwhelmingly will not be British, yet are obliged to obey the law here and so should, equally, be protected by it. We will ask the court to make a definitive ruling that the test is repugnant to British law.”

The ‘Guardian’ also reports that the children’s commissioner for England has intervened in the litigation in support of the PLP’s appeal, as has the solicitors’ professional body, the Law Society.

The case will be decided by seven justices – Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Reed, Lord Carnwath, Lord Hughes and Lord Toulson – because of its constitutional importance.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Legal AidComments (0)


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