Earlier this month in a written statement the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer announced the government’s intention of reinstating non-asylum immigration legal aid for unaccompanied children.
Doing so would require a statutory instrument amending Schedule 1 of LASPO, which can’t be done during the summer recess.
So the MoJ has now issued guidance that, pending amendment of LASPO, exceptional funding should generally be granted in these cases.
The written statement says:
I wish to inform the House that I have decided to lay an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children into scope of legal aid.
Under current legislation, legal aid is available in all asylum cases – for all age groups – and immigration cases where someone is challenging a detention decision. Legal aid for other immigration matters is available via the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme, which is intended to ensure legal aid is accessible in all cases where there is a risk of breach of human rights.
Following a judicial review brought by the Children’s Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding. Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice.
The new guidance says
In the interim period before the amendment is made, those representing unaccompanied and separated children should apply for legal aid via the exceptional funding scheme.
In order to provide clarity to legal aid practitioners and caseworkers, the following is to be considered guidance under section 4 of LASPO:
- Caseworkers ought to operate on the basis that there is a strong presumption that under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights unaccompanied or separated children (children under the age of 18 who have been separated from both parents) require legal aid in relation to non-asylum immigration matters
- In light of this presumption, applications by or on behalf of unaccompanied and separated children in relation to non-asylum immigration matters need not be supported by detailed evidence in relation to issues relating to vulnerability and ability to participate in proceedings without legal aid (as this will be presumed).
This is welcome guidance which should ensure that applications are now very likely to be granted pending the full restoration of these cases to scope. Our congratulations to the Children’s Society and Islington Law Centre for bringing the judicial review which led to this rare reversal of a LASPO scope cut.
Family practitioners will be aware of a difficulty with the application of the statutory charge in some cases. Failings by a local authority towards have led to damages being sought on behalf of the child under the Human Rights Act.However, where this is done within the care proceedings it meant the damages would be swallowed up by the statutory charge which recovered the cost of the care proceedings. A line of cases confirmed the proper approach was to bring the damages claim separately to the care proceedings. Although this would mean a separate legal aid certificate, there was still an issue around the extent to which these were connected proceeding within s25 LASPO, meaning the statutory charge would still bite to recover the costs of the care proceedings. See Chapter 5 of the Handbook for more.This issue has come to court again in the recent case of Northamptonshire County Council & Anor v The Lord Chancellor (via the ire County Legal Aid Agency)  EWHC 1628 (Fam). Francis J noted that the LAA has now agreed to publish an updated statement of its position in these cases. Although it has not yet done so, the LAA’s position statement in this case is attached to the judgment and can be viewed here. It says
[If] HRA damages are obtained outside of the care or other family law proceedings (e.g. within separate civil proceedings, or by means of a settlement outside of the care or other family law proceedings), only the legal aid expenditure incurred in respect of pursuing an HRA claim will be treated by the LAA as provided in connection with it. If the LAA is asked to give an early indication as to whether the statutory charge will apply to any HRA damages in these circumstances, it will request undertakings from the provider and counsel in the care proceedings that they will not make a claim for costs in respect of any HRA work carried out as part of the care or other family law proceedings. Once the undertakings have been received, the LAA will be able to confirm that the statutory charge will not extend to the legally aided care costs. Note that, unless a certificate or amendment to a certificate specifically authorising an HRA claim has been granted, there could be no valid claim for such costs in any event.
For the avoidance of doubt, legal aid expenditure in relation to the HRA claim will form a statutory charge in respect of any damages or costs recovered in the settlement of that claim, to the extent that a claim is made for costs from the LAA.
The LAA now clearly accepts that – provided proceedings are separate – the HRA damages will not be used via the statutory charge to recover the costs of the care proceedings. However any legal aid costs in the HRA claim will. Such cases will often be unsuitable for a CFA and the costs protection afforded by a legal aid certificate will be needed. Even if costs are awarded in the event of a successful claim they will not cover the legal aid only costs and perhaps not part of the substantive work. This leaves practitioners with the invidious choice of not claiming perhaps significant costs, or seeing them recouped from their child client’s damages. However this position seems as far as the law can go in these situations. Whether it is just for the state to recover costs from damages awarded to a child client for HRA breaches by the state is essentially a political and policy question, and perhaps one the forthcoming LASPO review may address.
UPDATE 11 July: The LAA has now published the statement on its guidance page here
The High Court has quashed the LAA’s tender for housing court duty possession schemes in R (Law Centres Federation Limited) v Lord Chancellor  EWHC 1588 (Admin). The Law Centres Federation argued that the decision to reduce the number of contracts available by increasing the size of scheme areas to cover multiple courts was irrational and in breach of the public sector equality duty.
Andrews J was heavily critical of the LAA and MoJ’s approach to decision making, in particular the gathering of evidence. She found that a series of questionable assumptions without data had been made, and the position of the representative bodies mis-represented. Submissions to ministers were “woefully inadequate” and necessary enquires had not been carried out. As a result, the minister making the decision was misled and not properly briefed, and consequently reached a decision no minister, properly briefed and in possession of all the facts, could reasonably have reached.
It is not yet known whether the Lord Chancellor will appeal or what action the LAA will take to ensure schemes can operate beyond September 2018 now that the tender process awarding new contracts has been quashed, with existing providers already given notice of termination. We will report developments.
Following the decision of the Court of Appeal in Howard League for Penal Reform & Anor, R (On the Application of) v The Lord Chancellor  EWCA Civ 244, new regulations have come into force returning some prison law cases to the scope of legal aid.
The Criminal Legal Aid (Amendment) Regulations 2017, in force on 21 February 2018, bring the following types of case back in:
- Advice and representation for pre-tariff reviews for life and indeterminate sentence prisoners before the Parole Board;
- Reviews of classification as a category A prisoner;
- Placement in close supervision and separation centres within prisons.
These cases are funded as criminal legal aid, using advice and assistance and advocacy assistance. The usual means tests apply and payment is the same as for the prison law cases currently in scope. Amended criminal contracts have been issued and there are revised CRM3 and CRM18a forms on the LAA website. The LAA has said it will continue to accept old forms until 31 May 2018.
Congratulations to the Howard League and the Prisoners Advice Service, which have brought this change about following three years of litigation. It is a rare example of the scope of legal aid widening post-LASPO.
Filed under Crime, LASPO, Policy