Legal aid news - 4 March 2015
Civil legal aid cuts - not fit for purpose?
Parliament’s spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, has released a report criticising the way that civil legal aid cuts were driven through by the government, and questioning whether they have achieved value for money. Read our news summary and evidence to the committee here.
Evidence rules for family domestic violence cases lawful
A legal challenge was brought by charity Rights of Women to the strict rules on what evidence must be provided to show you are eligible for legal aid in family cases involving domestic violence. Unfortunately this was unsuccessful. You can read the judgment here. The High Court found that the Secretary of State for Justice had acted within his powers in making the controversial rules. However it was held that an good arguable case had been shown that some victims of serious domestic violence could not meet the evidence requirements. Although the evidence in the case showed the test may not be operating effectively this was a matter for Ministers and Parliament to address. Read the press release here. Shadow Justice Minister Sadiq Khan has said that although Labour would not reverse all legal aid cuts if they came into power they would review the evidence rules in family cases involving domestic violence.
Court of Appeal criticises cost shifting onto judges
Court of Appeal judges recently spoke out in a family case about the difficulties of running a case without representatives to assist the parties and the court. One judge commented that any cost savings from legal aid cuts was outweighed by equal if not more expense through the burden on judges and court time from helping the litigants in person. Read the judgment here.
Not the Global Law Summit
The Justice Alliance organised campaign action around the country to highlight the inequality faced by people needing advice after government cuts to legal aid. Volunteers went out to leaflet in the north of England, and marched across country in the south, meeting at a rally and comedy night on 23 February. Read more and see pictures on the Justice Alliance website here and read an article on the events by our member Gemma Blythe here.
Criminal legal aid fight continues
The most recent judicial review of the government’s plans to cut criminal legal aid was unfortunately unsuccessful. However permission to appeal was applied for and granted. There is still a freeze on bringing in the government’s plans in the short term. Labour Shadow Justice Minister Sadiq Khan has also confirmed his party would not bring in some of the proposals if elected and would review the sector.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) are fundraising for the next stage of the case where firms can donate a fixed fee (the equivalent of a fee brought in by a police station or court case). Donations from individuals are welcomed too.
Guidance for legal aid at inquests unlawful
The government suffered yet another High Court defeat on 20 February 2015. The criteria used by the Legal Aid Agency to determine whether the family of a bereaved person could get legal aid for representation at inquests were found unlawful. The court held the guidance on this issue was inadequate, wrong in law and provided a “materially misleading impression of what the law is” and would lead Legal Aid Agency staff to make wrongful refusals of funding. You can read a report by our committee member Oliver Carter here.
Legal aid for children - no government review
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed it will not review the provision of legal aid for children and young people. Charity JustRights has released a new report summarising data on the impact of free advice cuts on young people. Read more here.
Judicial review payment rules unlawful
A challenge to government rules on payment for judicial review cases has won in the High Court. This claim was brought by four law firms and an NGO. In a judgment handed down on 3 March, it was held the rules were unlawful because they are contrary to the purpose of the statutory scheme set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013. There has been no ruling on remedy yet but a decision on this is expected soon. The access to justice charity Public Law Project represented the claimants and you can read their press release and get a link to the judgment here.
Telephone advice gateway not working as planned
The Public Law Project has released research that shows the mandatory telephone “gateway” that individuals must go through to get free help in debt, special educational needs and discrimination cases may have been a barrier to justice. The research shows the service has been used far less than expected. The number of debt cases has been 90% less than initial estimates, special educational needs cases 45% less and discrimination 60% less. Users have experienced difficulty navigating the gateway and there is very low awareness about the service among potential users. The report concludes the costs of operating the gateway may outweigh any savings arising out of the shift away from face to face advice provision. Read more here.
Magna Carta today event
What would a progressive government need to do, to ensure access to justice for social welfare in the twenty first century? On Wednesday 11 March, in the Houses of Parliament, Committee room 9 (3-4.30pm) this event will launch a new pamphlet on legal aid and social welfare law, published by Goldsmiths, Centre for Urban and Community Research and Unite the Union.
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice)
Marj Mayo (Emeritus Professor of Community Development at Goldsmiths University of London)
Ruth Hayes (Director of Islington Law Centre)
Steve Hynes (Director of Legal Action Group (LAG) and Low Commissioner)
If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Maureen German at Unite: Maureen.German@unitetheunion.org. See the poster attached below.
Big Advice Survey - closes 31st March 2015
A survey of advice needs and access to advice services is taking place at the moment to help shape delivery of those services in the future. It concludes on 31 March 2015. Please take the survey and tell clients and colleagues working in advice provision or supporting those who need it so they can take the survey too.