Legal aid news – 12 Jan 2015

· A further challenge to the government’s criminal legal aid reforms has been brought by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA). As reported by the Law Society Gazette, the hearing will take place in the Administrative Court on 15 and 16 January. A separate challenge has also been initiated by the Law Society. The government had decided, following its defeat in the previous judicial review brought by the practitioner groups and the subsequent re-consultation, to increase the number of duty contracts for criminal legal aid work from 525 to 527. The tendering process for the new criminal legal aid contracts was put on hold by the Administrative Court, following an application for interim relief by the LCCSA and CLSA.

· The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the government against the Administrative Court’s ruling that the Lord Chancellor’s guidance on the exceptional funding scheme was unlawful. The appeal judgment in the case of Gudanaviciene & others is available on BAILII here. It was widely reported in the national media by the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail (and comment here),  and the Times (£).

· In December, civil servants at the Ministry of Justice admitted to the public accounts committee that they did not have time to research the potential impact of cuts to civil legal aid. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the MoJ, told the House of Commons committee that “it was not possible to do research about the current regime” as the government was “explicit it needed to make these changes swiftly”.

· Sir James Munby said that the legal aid application process “functions as a barrier to access”, when giving judgment in the case of Re D (A Child) (No 2). The comments by the President of the Family Division were picked up by the Guardian and Family Law Week. Munby said that the parents of the three year old child removed from their care “could be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane. Is this really the best we can do?” The solicitor representing the parents in the case warned that more challenges are likely without reform to the legal aid application system.

· The Administrative Court ruled that a policy operated by the Legal Aid Agency to deny legal aid for false imprisonment cases where there had been no deliberate or dishonest abuse of power was unlawful. The judgment of Mr Justice Dingemans in the case of R (on the application of Sunita Sisangia) v Director of Legal Aid Casework is here and a summary was posted by Doughty Street Chambers here.  The case was also reported by the Guardian.

· The judicial review brought by Rights of Women in relation to the evidence required for a legal aid applicant to demonstrate that they have been a victim of domestic violence was heard earlier this month, and judgment is awaited. The case was reported by the Guardian, the Law Society Gazette and

· The increasing numbers of litigants in person in the family courts was reported by the Guardian. OurKingdom also reported on the rise of litigants in person and alleged that the government is trying to “hide the chaos caused by legal aid cuts”. A Court of Appeal judge was also “horrified” at the number of unrepresented litigants, warning that the delays caused will “clog up” the justice system.

· Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, warned the Justice Select Committee that cuts in legal aid are leading to miscarriages of justices. Although he acknowledged that it is impossible to prove, Lord Dyson stated that it is “inevitable” that there will be cases where an unrepresented litigant has lost a case which they would have won with competent legal representation.  Sir James Munby agreed that it would be “foolish to believe there are not such cases”.

· The ConservativeHome blog published this post about how legal aid cuts are costing taxpayers more money than they save.