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Withholding legal aid in immigration cases unlawful

Withholding legal aid in immigration cases unlawful

The Lord Chancellor’s Exceptional Funding Guidance (Non-Inquests) issued under section 4 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, applied by the Legal Aid Agency in withholding legal aid in immigration cases, has been ruled to be unlawful in that it sets too high a threshold.

Collins J sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division so held in a reserved judgment when allowing claims by Teresa Gudanaviciene and five other claimants, for judicial review of the decision of the first defendant, the Director of Legal Aid Casework, to refuse them legal aid in respect of their immigration proceedings. The case reference is [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin); [2014] WLR (D) 266.

The claims raised common issues concerning the availability of legal aid in immigration cases under section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The claimants contended that the policy adopted by the Director, which applied the Lord Chancellor’s guidance, was wrong in law in being too restrictive. An issue arose as to whether article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms required the provision of legal aid to avoid a breach where article 6 did not also apply.

Collins J said that the overarching question posed in the Lord Chancellor’s guidance was whether the withholding of legal aid would make the assertion of the claim practically impossible or lead to an obvious unfairness in proceedings. In order to establish a breach of a human right, an individual had to establish on the balance of probabilities that such a breach had occurred.

He said that there was no reason why that test should not be applied in section 10(3)(a) of the 2012 Act. Thus if the Director was satisfied that legal aid was in principle needed when its refusal would to a high level of probability result in a breach of the Convention, section 10(3)(a) was met and means and merits would determine whether legal aid was to be granted and to what extent.

He held that the guidance was defective in that it set too high a threshold and failed to recognise that article 8 of the Convention applied even in immigration cases and, despite the exclusion of article 6, carried with it procedural requirements which had to be taken into account. Whilst some of the claims would require consideration of other general matters, each of the six claimants had an article 8 claim.

He said that it was important in considering article 8 of the Convention to bear in mind that rights of family members, particularly children, had to be taken into account. It had been made clear in the Supreme Court that the interests of a child were a primary consideration and Parliament recognised and gave effect to that in section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. This requires that the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the United Kingdom be taken into account in an immigration decision.

He held that the Lord Chancellor’s guidance was unlawful, and accordingly, the decision of the Director in each of the claims would be quashed.

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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