Government’s legal aid plans “unlawful” & “discriminatory,” rule judges

July 15, 2014

British judges today ruled that a proposed cut to legal aid known as the ‘residence test’ is “unlawful” and “discriminatory.”  The measure, which was pushed through the Commons without a debate last Wednesday (9 July), would block anyone not resident in the UK from receiving legal aid.  This would mean that people who had been wronged by the UK Government – such as victims of rendition and torture – could be shut out of court, unless they are very wealthy.

The policy has come in for criticism from two Parliamentary Select Committees: the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) warned last month that “the residence test will inevitably lead to breaches by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” while the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) has said of the case put forward by the Government that it “does not find these arguments persuasive.”

Additionally, an internal Ministry of Justice document has revealed that no savings have been identified as a result of the policy, and it is likely to cause “an increase in costs” to the Legal Aid Agency.

Today’s ruling came in response to a Judicial Review brought by the Public Law Project, a legal charity.

Commenting, Cori Crider, Strategic Director at Reprieve said: “This is welcome news.  The ‘residence test’ would seriously damage the principle that no-one, not even the Government, is above the law.  Deserving cases – such as victims of ‘rendition’ operations in which the UK was complicit – would be denied their day in court.  The Government must think again.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. Further information from PLP on today’s ruling can be found here: http://www.publiclawproject.org.uk/news/41/press-release-plp-wins-residence-test-case.-proposals-to-introduce-legal-aid-residence-test-are-unla and the judgement in full can be read here: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/plp-v-ssj-and-other.pdf

3. The residence test is contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2014, which can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2014/9780111113073/contents

4. The JCHR’s warnings concerning the incompatibility of the residence test with children’s’ rights can be found on p9 of this report: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201415/jtselect/jtrights/14/14.pdf

5. For the JCSI’s assessment, see p7 of their report: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201415/jtselect/jtstatin/4/4.pdf

6. For further information on the cost/benefit analysis of the residence test, see: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/2014_07_01_Legal_aid_cut_no_savings/