Green Paper Proposes Changes to Legal Aid

On 15 November 2010 Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke unveiled a programme of wide-ranging reform to legal aid and civil litigation costs as part of new Government plans to reduce public funding costs. It claims that the aim of such reform is to support a simpler, better and more affordable system of justice. The 224-pages long Document however reveals shocking level of cuts in public funding for the provision of legal advice, which simply means that access to justice at proportionate cost will be denied to many.

The Paper states that “legal aid will be retained for asylum cases, for debt and housing matters where someone’s home is at immediate risk, and for mental health cases.” Some of the outrageous propositions however include the removal of all Legal Help and Controlled Legal Representation for immigration matters, other than for persons seeking release from detention or proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC).

These changes will eliminate the following from Legal Aid:

  1. Grant/variation of leave to remain;
  2. Entry clearance applications;
  3. European applications;
  4. Citizenship and travel documents; and
  5. Applications under concessions or policy outside of the Immigration Rules.

The Paper states that Legal Help should be provided in asylum cases, taking into account “the particular vulnerability of this group” and the UK obligations under the international law however it proposes to remove all welfare-related issues (such as asylum support) from the scope of legal aid.

While legal aid is considered to be justified in cases involving challenge to detention under immigration powers, the claims by detainees that do not relate directly to their detention or asylum (for example, claims in relation to the individual’s immigration application) are not to be covered. Deportation matters and issues related to private and family rights (Article 8 of the Human Rights act 1999 and of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)) are also out of scope.

Not only immigration, all areas of law are to be badly hit, should the proposals go ahead. Some types of cases will no longer routinely qualify for legal aid funding, such as private family law cases, including divorce and child contact. In criminal law, for example, legal help will be retained “for those criminal cases where it is currently available, in order to ensure fair trials for those accused of more serious criminal offences can access the representation required to provide a fair trial”. How about those charged with less serious offences? And representation required to ensure their fair trial?…

It’s up to us now to put as much effort into this as we can. If we don’t, a lot of people will no longer have access to legal advice.

The Proposals are open for consultation until 14 February 2011 and a response from MOJ is due in spring 2011; scope changes are “unlikely to be implemented before 2012”.

To download the full Green Paper on the Ministry of Justice website.


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