Legal aid news – February 2016

Domestic violence evidence criteria: the Court of Appeal ruled that the regulation setting out the evidence criteria for victims of domestic violence applying for legal aid was invalid, insofar as it required evidence of domestic violence within a 24 month period before the application for legal aid and does not cater for victims of financial abuse.

The case, brought by the charity Rights of Women, was widely reported by the BBC, the Independent, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Justice Gap among others. The Court of Appeal judgment, which begins with Lord Justice Longmore’s declaration that “Legal aid is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”, is available here. Rights of Women also issued this press release welcoming the judgment.

Residence test: the Supreme Court this month granted permission to Public Law Project to appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which in November 2015 found in favour of the government that the proposed residence test for civil legal aid is not unlawful. The Court of Appeal judgment – which overturned an earlier Administrative Court judgment – is available here and was reported on for the Justice Gap by YLAL co-chair Ollie.

Employment tribunal fees: the Supreme Court also granted permission to appeal to Unison, the trade union, in its challenge to the lawfulness of the employment tribunal fees regime introduced by the coalition government. The Court of Appeal judgment under challenge is available here.

Labour legal aid review: the Access to Justice Commission appointed by Lord Bach to assist in the Labour Party’s legal aid review has issued its call for evidence. YLAL has been invited to contribute to the review and will be doing so. The deadline for responses is 29 April 2016. One member of the Commission, former Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke, has been writing about the work of the Commission and his distinguished legal career – his blog is highly recommended.

Jeremy Corbyn also used a recent blog for the Bar Council to pay tribute to “decent and dedicated young legal aid lawyers”, who he described as “great campaigners”. The leader of the opposition also said that “access to justice should be considered a fundamental right for all”.

Junior lawyers: YLAL co-chair Ollie attended a Law Society Gazette roundtable discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing junior lawyers, the full report of which can be read here. Ollie discussed the issue of ‘paralegalisation’, with paralegal experience now seen by many as a prerequisite to getting a training contract, and said that the aspiration for junior legal aid lawyers sat the moment “is limited to being able to survive and sustain a career”.

Meanwhile, it was reported in the Guardian that qualifying as a barrister may now cost new students up to £127,000. The chair of the Bar Council, Chantal-Aimée Dorries, also made the point that pro bono work should not be seen as a substitute for legal aid. Aspiring barristers may be interested to read about this £12,000 bursary for work at the publicly-funded bar, reported by Legal Cheek. The closing date for applications is 15 April 2016.

SRA consultation: the Solicitors Regulation Authority is consulting on a proposed ‘Solicitors Qualifying Examination’ (or SQE), a common professional assessment to be taken immediately prior to qualification as a solicitor. The aim of introducing the SQE would be to “ensure that all aspiring solicitors, no matter what institution they attended or pathway they took, are assessed against the same high standard of competence”. The consultation closes on 4 March 2016 and YLAL will be submitting a response to provide the SRA with views from junior and aspiring legal aid lawyers.

Other news: Haldane Society vice-president Liz Davies wrote for the Morning Star about opposition to the government’s legal aid cuts and her hopes for a “Corbyn socialist Labour government in 2020”. While life as a legal aid lawyer is never easy, YLAL co-chairs Rachel and Ollie used their February Legal Action column to list the top ten reasons why we loved legal aid in 2015.