Tan & Anor v Law & Anor (2013) – Currently available on Lawtel 25/6/2013 and Westlaw, BAILII link to follow
The absence of legal representation for defendants to an action for debt who contended they could not speak English resulted in the High Court granting an application that the trial be adjourned for a second time. The judgment is a good example of the interaction of Article 6 ECHR (right to a fair trial) with the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).
The decision by Judge Burrell QC obviously turns on its own facts. But the absence of legal aid, the rise in litigants in person, and the increasing number of persons in this country for whom English is not their first language (or indeed their language at all) mean that this is not likely to be the last such case.
According to the President of the Supreme Court, the judiciary not only has a right but an obligation “to speak out on mattersconcerning 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.
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.
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.
RE F (CHILDREN) 14 May 2013, Court of Appeal – extempore so currently only available as a Lawtel summary (£)
A topical case, this, given legal aid cutbacks. It concerns the ability of unrepresented litigants to choose those to help them out as advocates in court. Not an unconstrained right, as this case demonstrates. The High Court ruled that a judge had been entitled to refuse an application for a particular person to act as a McKenzie friend despite that individual not being present in court at the time of the application. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision.
This application for permission to appeal resulted from the refusal by a family judge to permit a person to act as a McKenzie friend within care proceedings.
One of the most contentious proposals in the Consultation Paper on the transforming legal aid is the removal of client choice in criminal cases. Under the proposals contracts for the provision of legal aid will be awarded to a limited number of firms in an area. The areas are similar to the existing CPS areas. The Green Paper anticipates that there will be four or five such providers in each area. Thus the county of Kent, for example, will have four or five providers in an area currently served by fifty or so legal aid firms. Each area will have a limited number providers that will offer it is argued economies of scale.
In order to ensure that this arrangement is viable the providers will be effectively guaranteed work by stripping the citizen of the right to choose a legal aid lawyer in criminal cases. Under the new scheme every time a person needs advice they will be allocated mechanically by the Legal Aid Agency to one of the new providers. It may not be the same firm the person has used before. The citizen will therefore not be able to build up a relationship with a solicitor. From a human rights perspective this, of course, begs the question would the removal of choice be compatible with the ECHR?
R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgmentThis 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 →
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:
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 government’s proposed reforms to legal aid will have a catastrophic effect on those who have suffered as a result of negligent medical treatment.
When Kenneth Clarke informed Parliament on Monday that
Legal aid will still routinely be available in civil and family cases where people’s life or liberty is at stake, or where there is risk of serious physical harm or the immediate loss of their home.
he clearly did not mean that the destruction of a person’s life or the suffering of seriously physical harm through the mismanagement of their medical treatment was to be included within this. If he had meant that he would have proposed at the same time that clinical negligence would continue to be funded by legal aid.
By all accounts, it has been a gloomy year for access to justice. The legal aid budget is to be reduced by £350m and state assistance has effectively disappeared in non-criminal cases. The overall justice budget, which is already low by international standards, is to be cut by a further 23%. But believe it or not, there may be reasons to be cheerful.
In the virtual world, legal blogs are becoming an established voice in the UK legal community and the flourishing blogosphere has given the public a lively, accessible and most importantly free new way of engaging with the law. With legal aid becoming scarcer and Citizens Advice Bureaus losing their funding, free information services such can be the last resort for those who seek legal help without having to pay for a lawyer.
But none of these services would exist without their hidden backbone: BAILII. To that end, when Legal Week published its excellent review of legal blogging last month, the failure to mention BAILII caused a min-revolution from a gaggle of legal bloggers in the comments section.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.