Mousa and others, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 2941 (Admin) - read judgment
A postscript to Rosalind English’s post of today. In the substantive judgment (see Adam Wagner’s post on the order), the Divisional Court decided two main issues, one relating to the independence of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, and one relating to the extent to which an inquiry conducted through IHAT complied with Article 2 of the ECHR. The Secretary of State succeeded on the first issue, whereas the claimant succeeded substantially on the second issue relating to the need for a different form of inquiry. Hence there was no overall winner; the Secretary of State won on the first issue and the claimant succeeded substantially on the second issue. But more time was spent on the first issue.
What then to do about costs? And why is that interesting – promise you, it is important.
In a famous advert from the 80s, Maureen Lipman picked up the phone to caution her distraught grandson that he could never be a failure if he had an “ology”. It was perhaps in memory of that fine advice that the Lord Chancellor appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on Wednesday morning. For the first time, the language of ideology was openly placed at the heart of the Government’s approach to the reform of legal aid.
Most of the legal profession is familiar with the controversy of the Government’s latest raft of suggestions for reform of legal aid, in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper. JUSTICE and many others have raised substantial concerns about the Government’s approach. The changes proposed to the provision of criminal legal aid will drastically limit the ability of people accused of crimes by the State to access quality legal advice that they can trust. This will increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and may make the criminal justice system as a whole more expensive, and less fair, as more people attempt to represent themselves.
According to the President of the Supreme Court, the judiciary not only has a right but an obligation “to speak out on matters concerning the rule of law.” In recent months, it is a duty from which Lord Neuberger has not shirked, and last night’s lecture to the Institute of Government was no exception. Its focus was the importance of legal aid, which Neuberger described through the prism of the UK’s constitutional set-up and the respective roles of the legislature, executive and judiciary within it.
This is not the first time that the UK’s most senior judge has intervened in the debate surrounding the Transforming Legal Aid consultation, which closed on 4 June. Back in March, he warned that proposals intended to save £350 million a year by 2015 could end up costing the Government more, with greater numbers of litigants appearing in court without legal assistance, and longer hearings.
145 barristers on the Attorney General’s Panel of Counsel have signed a letter seeking that the Government to rethink its plans for reform of Legal Aid. I was one of the signatories. The letter is reproduced on the Legal Aid Changes blog.
The letter relates specifically to Judicial Review, which is an area in which Panel counsel practise regularly. Here is a taster:
We consider that the proposals in the Consultation Paper will undermine the accountability of public bodies to the detriment of society as a whole and the vulnerable in particular. Those who are reliant on legal aid are most likely to be at the sharp end of the exercise of government power and are least likely to be able to fund judicial review for themselves, or effectively act in person.
Two quick things.
The first is that yesterday was the final day for responses to the Government’s latest Legal Aid reforms consultation. As I have done in the past, I will be collating some of the key organisational responses. If you want yours included in the roundup, please email me if you haven’t already. Just as a taster, why not dip into the relatively short and sweet Bingham Centre response, which is excellent, as well as the very long but solid-looking Bar Council response.
If you couldn’t make the protest yesterday, why not listen to three speeches by leading barristers Dinah Rose QC, Michael Fordham QC (pictured*) and Geoffrey Robertson QC. Fordham’s rabble rousing avocado metaphor (yes, avocado) is particularly worth devoting five minutes to. Well done to Carl Gardner along with his up and coming sound engineer Joshua Rosenberg for recording and publishing.
R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.
The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:
For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary. Continue reading
Sandiford, R(on the application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  168 (Admin) – read judgment
In this highly publicised case, the Administrative Court has come up with some firm criteria for the scope of the Convention’s protective reach for UK citizens abroad. The judgment is also something of a body blow for those who are looking to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms for a wider human rights umbrella.
Lindsay Sandiford, the 56 year old claimant, was arrested for drug smuggling in Indonesia and sentenced to death. She issued judicial review proceedings seeking an order requiring the FCO to provide and fund an “adequate lawyer” on the basis that she had not had proper representation in Indonesia. The broad basis of this claim was that the UK government should back up its opposition to the death penalty by putting its money where its mouth is. Continue reading
The Ministry of Justice has proposed two important amendments to the Legal Aid, Punishment of Offenders and Sentencing Bill.
As has been predicted for a number of months, the proposals will bring a limited number of clinical negligence claims and claims arising as a result of domestic violence back within the scope of legal aid. The clinical negligence exception only relates to claims arising whilst a person was still in their mother’s womb, or 8 weeks after their birth. If the baby is born before 37 weeks gestation, the legal aid clock will begin to tick from the date they would have been 37 weeks gestation. The victim must also be “severely disabled” as a result.
As to domestic violence, the amendments are to provide legal aid for civil claims where:
Lord Justice Jackson spoke in strong terms last week to the Cambridge Law Faculty on the controversial topic of legal aid and legal costs reforms.
The architect of the proposed reforms to legal costs made clear his position on the government’s proposed amendments, set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which was reviewed by the Committee of the House of Commons today, 13 September (listen to the committee recording here). He was keen to highlight which parts of the reforms reflect he views expressed in his report, and which parts he does not consider to be in the interests of justice. He said, in summary:
As reported by Guardian.co.uk, Lady Hale, one of the 12 UK Supreme Court justices, has said in a speech to The Law Society that the government’s proposed reforms to legal aid will have a “disproportionate effect upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society“.
Although the current crop of senior judges has not been afraid to express opinions on controversial issues, it is unusual for a sitting senior judge to criticise current and controversial government plans. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has only just been published, and is being debated tomorrow in Parliament. The Guardian.co.uk article presents the comments as a “direct challenge” to the policy. However, upon a closer reading, Lady Hale cleverly steered clear of criticising the plans in her own words, but rather quoted the government’s own analysis of the bill.
The speech was entitled Equal Access to Justice in the Big Society, and was in memory of solicitor Henry Hodge, and can be downloaded in full here (PDF). It is also republished below the page break.
R (on the application of Evans) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 1146 (Admin) - Read judgment
The High Court has found that the Ministry of Justice, when making a decision to cease the state’s funding of judicial review challenges on purely public interest grounds (apart from one exception), took into account the fact that to do so would reduce the number of decisions being made which were not in the government’s interests. Unsurprisingly, the Court to concluded that the decision was unlawful and should be quashed.
The Applicant applied for judicial review of a decision by the Respondent to amend the Legal Services Commission (LSC) Funding Code, which funds litigation for those who meet certain criteria. The effect of the amendments, which were introduced in April 2010, was to prevent public funding by the LSC for judicial review proceedings (challenging decisions of public bodies) which were pure public interest challenges. That is, where the Applicant stood to gain nothing from the litigation and was bringing it solely to promote a particular public interest. The one exception was in environmental cases.
The consultation on the Government’s proposed reforms of legal aid closed on Monday 14th February. The reforms amount to a substantial reduction in the scope of and eligibility for legal aid. When opposition to reform of access to forests can force a Government U-turn, can opposition to reform of access to justice do the same?
In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, Clarke was said to be sanguine about criticism of legal aid cuts:
Oddly enough, I’m not in as much difficulty as I thought.
Updated | One of the many points of interest from yesterday’s announcement that legal aid is to be cut by £350m per year was the underlying justification, put by Ken Clarke in his announcement, that England and Wales spend more on legal aid than other countries.
The Justice Secretary said that “we currently have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world“. But where does this often-quoted statistic arise from?
In its consultation document, the MoJ quotes (at para 3.43) a report commissioned from the University of York into comparative international legal aid systems. The report, Efficiency and quality of justice European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ); International comparison of publicly funded legal services and justice systems, was produced in October 2009 by Roger Bowles and Amanda Perry. It investigated the legal aid systems in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden and compared these to the system in England and Wales.
Updated | The legal community has been digesting yesterday’s announcement of government plans for legal aid to be reduced by around £350 per year from 2014-15.
Most commentators and legal professionals are worried that less money for legal representation will lead to less access to justice for the poorer members of society. But some have also expressed relief that the criminal legal aid scheme has been left largely untouched, as have funding for inquests, judicial reviews and asylum cases.
For those who have a view on the reforms, the Ministry of Justice has an online questionnaire which can be filled in here.
Nicholas Green QC (Chairman of the Bar of England and Wales: “A permanent contraction of justice cannot be justified by the “big society” or by any sort of philosophical mantra. Ultimately an efficient justice system is fundamental to the wellbeing of the country. We only have to look at our television screen at events unfolding in Burma and elsewhere to see the undeniable truth of that proposition.”
Today marks the beginning of National Pro Bono Week, with events being held across the country to celebrate the range and impact of pro bono work undertaken by solicitors, barristers and legal executives. A calendar of events can be found here.
How much pro-bono, or free, work should a lawyer do? This is a question which I have heard asked surprisingly rarely. I cannot recall the topic being addressed during my legal training, although pro-bono work was generally encouraged not just as charity but also as an excellent way of gaining legal experience with a view to finding a job. This was certainly my experience, and I cannot stress enough how valuable my work at the Free Representation Unit was in providing an interesting and valuable insight into representing real clients.