Residence test vote for MPs

A vote is scheduled on Wednesday 9 July between 11am and 2 pm in the House of Commons on the Government’s proposed regulations to introduce a “residence test” to qualify for legal aid (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2014).

This follows a debate in committee on the regulations on 1 July that you can read here.

We urge all members to ask their MP to attend and vote against these regulations. 

Here is text for an email that you can copy and a link to a site where you can email your MP direct. Please personalise if you can to say why this issue matters to you.

Text for email

Dear Mr/Ms [insert name of MP]

“Residence test” for legal aid: vote on Wednesday 9th July

I am writing to you as my MP to ask you to vote against a “residence test” for civil legal aid. The Government has proposed a statutory instrument (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2014) that will bring in this test, which is subject to a vote in the Commons between 11am and 2pm on Wednesday 9th July. I am writing to ask you to attend and vote against this measure.

If the test comes in to have access to legal aid for civil and family cases a person will have to prove that:

1.  They are in the UK lawfully; AND

2. They have been in the UK lawfully for a consecutive period of 12 months in the past.

It is not fair or right to exclude groups of people from access to free legal help simply based on their nationality

The test will exclude many people from access to legal help and representation in civil and family cases, including children who have been in the UK for a number of years, victims of trafficking, and even British nationals (unless they can show that they have lived here for at least a year). Importantly the test will also exclude people who have lived and worked in the UK and paid taxes to the Government for many years but through a change in their immigration status find themselves now unlawfully in the UK. This cannot be fair or right.

Evidential requirements will exclude many who in fact do meet the test

The proposed evidential requirements to pass the test are too stringent and risk the exclusion of people who may in fact be eligible for legal aid. Current guidance for what evidence people need to show to prove they can pass the test runs to 40 pages. Everyone will need to provide this evidence – even British nationals. The documentation required will be difficult for many people to provide – it includes a current passport, a year’s worth of utility bills and bank statements. These are documents that many people simply don’t have access to in times of crisis. I am sure you will recognise how difficult this could be for your constituents to gather such evidence together. The test also relies on non-immigration experts working out whether someone is in the UK lawfully or not. The risk of getting this wrong will be too great for some providers and could lead to discrimination against a whole group of people. The test will be completely unworkable.

Exceptions are too limited

There are limited cases where the test will not be applied (for instance, in domestic violence injunctions applications) but there are many situations where the test will prevent crucial legal advice and help for those most in need. For instance, a child who is homeless who needs to bring a court challenge to get accommodation from social services; or a disabled adult wrongly denied community care services. What will happen to those people without the essential legal representation that they need?

There is no justification for the test

The Government says that these consequences are justified because British taxpayers want to know that their money is targeted “appropriately”. The Secretary of State for Justice has accepted that the aim of the test is not to save money – it is ideological in nature. But there is no evidence to show that British voters have lost confidence in the legal aid system or that they do not want vulnerable migrants or British nationals with less than 12 months residence to have access to legal advice. I am also sure that the British people would not want to see children sleeping in the streets or victims of domestic violence returning to the perpetrator of violence simply because they were not able to provide enough evidence to pass the new test for legal aid.

The test is unlawful under international law

Recently the Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report that was highly critical of the test, stating it was incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The chair of the JCHR, Dr Hywel Francis MP, recommended the proposals be withdrawn immediately.

I agree with the views of the JCHR. The test is also wrong in principle. Equality before the law is a universal right and should be upheld by a nation that prides itself on bringing parliamentary democracy to the world. It is wrong to manipulate the legal aid system to deny a group of migrants (or any other group) the protection of the law. The effect will be that people living in the UK subject to the rules of Parliament will be unable to effectively enforce their rights or seek the law’s protection. This cannot be right. 

More information

Here is a link to a briefing by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association which has more detail:

And a link to a briefing by JUSTICE:

Please vote 

I urge you to please vote against this test on 9 July.

Thank you very much for reading this email. If I can give you any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely