Following the successful challenge in R (Duncan Lewis Solicitors Ltd) v Director of Legal Aid Casework and the Lord Chancellor in October 2018, the LAA has announced that it will get new powers to backdate funding under legal aid certificates in urgent cases from 20 February 2019. The challenge was to a refusal by the LAA to backdate funding in an urgent immigration judicial review case to the date of the application where legal action had to be taken very quickly, even though the solicitors had made the application as promptly as possible.
The backdating power is likely to benefit clients needing to challenge decisions by public authorities where delegated functions are not available. However, the LAA will provide more guidance in due course before the new power comes into effect.
The amendments to the Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 which will bring this change into force can be found here.
The LAA will be closing its ‘out of hours’ service as a result of this new power. It has stressed that this change will not affect delegated functions which will remain available where appropriate. There is more information here.
Part of the government’s “transforming legal aid” agenda was to “restore public confidence” in the operation of judicial review by ensuring that only meritorious cases were brought. The method chosen to achieve that was to make payment for judicial review work conditional on permission being granted by the court (with limited exceptions, at the discretion of the LAA). Regulations to that effect came into force on 22 April 2014.
Four solicitors firms – Ben Hoare Bell, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Mackintosh Law and Public Law Solicitors – and the housing charity Shelter challenged the regulations. The claimants represent the range of judicial review work, covering between them work across categories such as immigration, housing, community care, public law and actions against the police, and were supported by witness evidence from a number of other organisations.
The High Court gave judgment today in Ben Hoare Bell Solicitors & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor  EWHC 523 (Admin). The grounds of challenge were that a) the Lord Chancellor had no power to make the regulations introducing conditional funding; b) the regulations were inconsistent with the statutory purpose of LASPO; and c) that they would have a chilling effect on access to the courts, because providers would not be able to risk taking on work without payment.