Tag Archives: LASPO

LASPO review finally announced 

The long-awaited review of LASPO, promised by the government within three to five years of implementation, has finally been announced.

In a written statement to Parliament yesterday, the Lord Chancellor said it would be conducted by MoJ officials, with input from interested parties, and would report by the 2018 summer recess (which would take it just beyond five years since LASPO came into force in April 2013).

The statement is here, and the accompanying memorandum is here

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Bach report published

Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission has published its final report, available here. It is a detailed and thoughtful report, which should provoke further debate about the impact on access to justice – and particularly those who can’t get it – following the reforms of recent years. There is a lengthy list of recommendations, which fall into three main categories:

  • The creation of a new statutory enforceable “right to justice” and the creation of a Justice Commission
  • Reform of the legal aid scheme, including widening and simplifying the means test and contributions, increasing legal aid scope to restore most family, some immigration, and cases involving children, as well as reforms to judicial review, inquest and exceptional case funding, and replacing the LAA with an independent body and simplifying administration
  • Wider and better public legal education and a universal advice and information portal.

Sir Henry Brooke,  the retired Court of Appeal judge, was one of the commissioners. Since the publication of the report he has posted a series of blogs, well worth reading, looking at some of the background to the Commission’s recommendations.

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New Handbook published

The new edition of the Handbook has now been published and pre-order copies are being dispatched. You can order your copy from LAG here.

This book is an invaluable companion and essential reading for all legal aid practitioners, from caseworkers to senior partners. The authors have expertly pulled together information that is not currently available in one place providing the only single volume guide to the criminal and civil legal aid scheme.

‘… admirably clear on some very tricky points. There should be at least one copy in every office where legal aid work is carried out.’ Carol Storer, director, LAPG.

‘I wish I could say “this book is never off my desk” but the truth is my copy of LAG Legal Aid Handbook always appears to be on someone else’s … Essential reading for all practitioners seeking to provide a first class service to clients in a post-LASPO world.’  Phil Walsh Partner/Practice Manager, Miles & Partners LLP.

The  LAG legal aid handbook 2017/18 gives practical, step by step guidance on conducting cases, getting paid, advocacy, financial and contract management, performance monitoring and quality standards and an overview of recent policy developments. There are separate chapters on all the major areas of law covered by legal aid and sections devoted to litigators and advisers, advocates and managers.

This edition has been updated to include:

•  full coverage of the new 2017 crime contract

•  latest changes and updates to the civil scheme

•  discussion of current case law and hot topics in legal aid practice

•  hints, tips and practical advice from how to manage a contract to navigating CCMS

•  specialist chapters on billing, crime, public family law, private family law, housing, mental health, immigration and exceptional funding

•  a dedicated section for advocates

•  guidance on managing legal aid work and tendering for contracts

•  a full round up of the latest policy developments

The only comprehensive guide to the whole legal aid scheme, the new edition features chapters written by expert contributors Anthony Edwards, Richard Charlton, Steve Hynes, Solange Valdez-Symonds and Katie Brown. The LAG legal aid handbook 2017/18 is packed full of case studies, checklists and practical tips. It provides clear and easy to follow guidance on the ever more complex legal aid system and is essential reading for everyone involved in legal aid from new caseworkers to experienced lawyers and managers.

 

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Latest legal aid statistics published

 

The LAA has published its latest quarterly statistics, for October to December 2016, and they make grim reading.

  • Legal Help cases have fallen 14% compared to the same quarter last year, though civil certificates increased by 5%;
  • Crime has also fallen – with lower work down by 6% and higher by 4%. The effect of suspending the April 2016 fee cut meant that lower spend rose by 1%;
  • Mediation cases fell by 14% compared with the same period last year;
  • Total spend on crime in 2016 was £861million, and in civil £676million, of which £527million was family;
  • The collapse of non-family civil legal aid continues, with mental health down 5%, immigration down 24% and housing down 12% since last year;
  • Exceptional funding applications increased by 43%, and 58% of applications were granted – over half in immigration.

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Supreme Court judgment in residence test case

The Supreme Court has issued its judgment in the residence test. As we reported at the time of the hearing, the Court took the very unusual step of upholding the appeal partway through the case. It’s now given its reasons.

In The Public Law Project, R (on the application of) v Lord Chancellor [2016] UKSC 39, Lord Neuburger gave the only judgment, the other six justices agreeing. He only dealt with the first ground of appeal – ultra vires – it being agreed that, as the case won on that ground alone it wasn’t necessary to deal with the other ground (discrimination).

Lord Neuburger held that LASPO defines what civil legal aid services are to be made available by reference to the issue of law, the nature of the services and the need and ability to pay of the individual requiring the services. There is nothing in the Act that excludes groups of people on the grounds of personal circumstances or personal characteristics beyond that – such as resident status – and nothing in the Act that enables such an exclusion to be brought in using the powers given to make secondary legislation. He also noted the strong presumption in statutory interpretation that every Act applies not just to persons belonging to the territory affected by the Act, but also to “foreigners…within its territory”.

We’ve remarked before on the varying interpretations of the statutory purpose of LASPO. Lord Neuburger addressed that as well; “the purpose of Part 1 of LASPO was, in very summary terms, to channel civil legal aid on the basis of the nature and importance of the issue, an individual’s need for financial support, the availability of other funding, and the availability of other forms of dispute resolution. The exclusion of individuals from the scope of most areas of civil legal aid on the ground that they do not satisfy the residence requirements of the proposed order involves a wholly different sort of criterion from those embodied in LASPO and articulated in the 2011 paper.” This is a helpful formulation, putting the emphasis back on targeting need rather than reducing costs.

However, although it’s now clear that the residence test can’t be brought in by statutory instrument, it still could be done by primary legislation. The previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, made clear he supported that – though no legislative plans had been announced. It remains to be seen whether Theresa May – and whoever she appoints as Lord Chancellor – agrees.

 

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Filed under Civil, Family, Housing, Immigration, LASPO, Public Law, Social welfare, Uncategorized

Scope news

News of a couple of recent cases where the scope of legal aid has been an issue:

Firstly, some welcome news via the Court of Protection Handbook blog (another site supporting a LAG book, and invaluable for practitioners in that field). It is a report from Bindmans confirming that the LAA has conceded that a claim for damages under the Human Rights Act made in the Court of Protection is in scope under para 22 of Schedule 1 of LASPO. More here.

Secondly, another in the list of cases where the family courts have identified loopholes in the funding arrangements for care cases. In JC (Discharge of Care Order : Legal Aid) , Re [2015] EWFC B39, a father was refused legal aid to be represented on an application by the local authority to withdraw discharge of a care order. While such matters are in scope, they are not covered by the non-means non-merits provisions, and the father didn’t qualify on means. HHJ Hammerton said:

      In terms of the provision of legal aid it is impossible to rationalise the distinction between defending an application for a care order and defending an application for the withdrawal of permission to discharge a care order, when both applications are made by the local authority. The outcome being sought by the local authority is the same, namely the removal of the child from his parent. However the application made within original care proceedings will attract non-means tested public funding whereas the application to withdraw a discharge of a care order will not.
      The lack of legal representation inevitably causes an imbalance in the effective presentation of the cases advanced by the parties. When, as here, the subject matter is grave and emotive, the absence of representation is particularly inappropriate and unfair.

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Court of Appeal says exceptional funding regime is lawful

The Court of Appeal has given judgment in the case of Director of Legal Aid Casework and another v IS [2016] EWCA Civ 464, the Director’s appeal against the judgment of Collins J in the High Court that the exceptional funding regime was inherently unlawful.

Laws LJ gave the main judgment, with which Burnet LJ agreed. He said that there were clear flaws in the operation of the scheme which had resulted in unfairness in individual cases. But it is necessary to look at the range of cases, and more than error in individual cases is required; unfairness – to a high threshold – must be shown in the scheme itself. He said that it is important to distinguish a bad scheme and one that is operated badly. And a judge must be careful not to stray into matters of underlying policy.

All sides accepted that there had been flaws in the operation of the scheme. Improvements were needed. But the evidence supplied of experience of use of the scheme was of limited value and unreliable. Significant improvements had been made since Gudanaviciene, showing that both the LAA and providers were on a learning curve. That there was a low number of applications, and a low success rate, didn’t of itself show that the scheme was unfair, and the resources available to legal aid are limited. Collins J hadn’t shown how his individual criticisms of the scheme added up to systemic unfairness, and it was Laws LJ’s “impressionistic” judgment that they didn’t. Neither did he or Burnet LJ consider the merits test or the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance to be unlawful.

Dissenting, Briggs LJ said that he would find the scheme unlawful. Although he agreed with much of what Laws LJ had said, he found that a key feature of the scheme was that its complexity was such that legal assistance was required. As there was no payment available for unsuccessful applications, and such a low success rate, it is uneconomic for lawyers to take part it in it. That is an inherent flaw in the scheme. A learning curve might help those applications that are made, but is no answer to those that aren’t.

Comment

The views of the majority are not wholly persuasive. They recognise a number of powerful criticisms of the operation of the scheme and the injustice that has resulted in individual cases. But all to often that is dismissed or disregarded – even though Laws LJ readily admits that the Court didn’t read all the evidence – and where it is not it is explained away or the Director’s response accepted. The thrust of the majority view appears to be that the scheme is badly operated, but not quite bad enough of itself to be unlawful. But the conclusion that the whole is less than the sum of the parts does not convince.

Wider implications

Following Collins J’s finding in the High Court that the merits test was unlawful, the Lord Chancellor introduced a new merits test. This reversed the exclusion of borderline cases, and extended legal aid to poor (but not very poor – i.e. less than 20% prospects of success) cases. That change applied not just to exceptional cases but to in scope cases as well; now that the Court of Appeal has found that the previous iteration of the merits test was not unlawful, it may be that this wider merits test will be withdrawn. It remains to be seen whether the case will go on to further appeal.

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