Supreme Court blocks bid to cut £2bn in legal aid
Apr 19, 2016 10:20 AM EDT
The Supreme Court blocked a government move to cut its £2bn in legal aid by preventing migrants who have lived in the country for less than a year from availing it.
The government wanted to limit civil legal aid, except in certain circumstances, only to people who have lived in the UK, crown dependencies, and British overseas territories uninterruptedly for at least twelve months, The Telegraph reported.
A 2014 Council of Europe report said the UK had the highest legal aid spending in Europe at £2bn while France and Germany had £290m and £272m, respectively. And the residence test was government's bid to cut usage of the funds.
But seven justices of the court yesterday ruled that the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling at the time, had exceeded his powers in trying to introduce the controversial test. Mail Online reported that a Ministry of Justice(MoJ) spokesman said, "We are of course very disappointed with this decision. We will now wait for the full written judgment to consider." The MoJ was planning to have regulation for the test in place this spring and would have implemented it in the summer.
Legal charity Public Law Project (PLP), represented by law firm Bindmans, considered the ruling a legal victory as Michael Fordham QC, appearing for PLP, said the test targeted a vulnerable group - "notwithstanding their equal rights and their equal needs".
The test would have had serious impact to migrants who have recently arrived, warned human rights campaigners. These migrants and their children face all sorts legal problems requiring assistance from the government.
According to the Solicitors Journal the Supreme Court ruling came about after a split in the lower courts. Last November the Court of Appeal overturned a three judge divisional court that found the test unauthorized by parliament, discriminatory and cannot be justified.
The divisional court heard testimonies from many migrants who were destitute or abused, people most likely to be denied legal advice and representation under the new test. This is something the court believed parliament could never have contemplated when passing the law.