Press release: Challenge to Legal Aid Regulations succeeds
Published: March 3 2015
In a judgment handed down this morning, a Divisional Court has ruled that controversial judicial review regulations that came into force in April 2014 are unlawful.1
A link to the judgement can be found here.
The regulations effectively cut funding for judicial review cases brought by individuals in receipt of legal aid. They provided that lawyers working for Claimants in a legally aided application for judicial review would only be guaranteed payment once a claim had been granted “permission”.2
There was widespread concern that the regulations would impact on vulnerable people dependent on legal aid, who would not be able to find lawyers willing or able to take on meritorious cases, and would adversely impact on access to justice.
A challenge to the regulations was brought by the social welfare law providers Ben Hoare Bell Solicitors LLP, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Mackintosh Law, Public Law Solicitors and the homelessness charity Shelter. The Claimants were represented by the access to justice charity the Public Law Project 3 and Martin Westgate QC and Martha Spurrier of Doughty Street Chambers.
To be lawful, regulations made under statute must be consistent with the purpose of the statute under which they are made. The Claimants argued, amongst other things, that the regulations were inconsistent with the statutory scheme which governs access to legal aid. The Defendant Lord Chancellor argued that the regulations would incentivise legal aid providers to more rigorously examine the merits of a case before issuing proceedings, and, as a result, the regulations would “enhance” and make “more effective” the merits criteria in the statutory legal aid scheme.
Rejecting the Lord Chancellor’s arguments the Divisional Court observed that various events can occur in judicial review cases which are unforeseeable or outside the control of lawyers. The Court found that there was no rational connection between the effect of the regulations and its stated purpose , and that the reach of the regulations “extends well beyond those in which such a regulation could lawfully incentivise providers to a sharper focus on the merits test in the way described in the consultation papers” .
Accordingly, the Court found that the Lord Chancellor did not have the power to make such regulations.
This is the latest judgment in a series of cases concerned with civil legal aid reform in which Courts have found that the current Lord Chancellor has exceeded his powers or otherwise sought to act unlawfully.
Polly Brendon, of PLP said:
"Our clients are heartened by this outcome, and urge the Lord Chancellor to accept the judgment of the Court and work positively with providers to maintain an effective legal aid scheme that meets Parliament’s intentions."
For email enquiries please contact Polly Brendon on email@example.com or 020 7843 1263020 7843 1263.
 The full name of the regulations is the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2014 SI 2014 No. 607 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/607/contents/made
 The permission stage is a filter in judicial review claims. Research has demonstrated that many meritorious claims settle before a permission decision is made.
 The Public Law Project (PLP) is an independent, national legal charity which aims to improve access to justice for those whose access is restricted by poverty, discrimination or other similar barriers.
 The governing statute is the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
 See for example judgments relating to the Lord Chancellor’s guidance on the civil exceptional funding scheme R (Gudanaviciene and Ors v DLAC and Lord Chancellor) and R (Letts) v Lord Chancellor; or relating to the proposal to introduce a ‘residence test’ by secondary legislation R (PLP) v SSJ.