MoJ admits key legal aid cut may not save any money

July 1, 2014

An internal Ministry of Justice document has revealed that the Justice Secretary’s plans for a cut to legal aid – known as the ‘Residence Test’ – may not result in any savings.

An impact assessment produced by the MoJ states that not only are any savings resulting from the policy “N/Q [not quantified],” but it may actually result in “an increase in costs” to the Legal Aid Agency.

The Residence Test would mean that anyone who is not resident in the UK at the time of applying for legal aid will be barred from receiving it.  Concerns have been raised that this could hit important cases – such as victims of rendition and torture in which the UK has been complicit, or the retired Gurkhas who were denied the right to settle in Britain.

MPs are this morning considering the policy, in the wake of a warning from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights that it will “lead to breaches by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) because it will in practice prevent children from being effectively represented in legal proceedings which affect them.”

The impact assessment, unearthed by legal charity Reprieve, appears to be at odds with the Justice Secretary’s claim that his reforms will “reduce the cost of legal aid.”

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said: “We already know that the ‘Residence Test’ will shut important cases out of the courts, leaving the Government effectively immune from legal challenge for wrongdoing overseas.  Now we find that even the MoJ doesn’t know whether it will produce any savings at all – and in fact thinks it will result in increased costs for parts of Government.  It is hard to see what the point is of a reform which not only reduces state accountability, but may end up costing more than it saves.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: 0207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The MoJ Impact Assessment on the Residence Test can be found on p2 of the following document: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid/supporting_documents/civilcredibilityia.pdf

3. The JCHR’s warning that the Residence Test will breach the UNCRC can be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/news/children-residence-test-substantive/

4. The Residence Test is contained in the Draft Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2014, which is being considered by the Commons Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee this morning (Tuesday 1 July 2014)