In a dramatic development, after only one day of the two-day hearing, the Supreme Court has said that the residence test for legal aid is unlawful because it goes further than the powers granted to the Secretary of State by Parliament. The full Supreme Court statement is here:
The issues in this appeal (see Case details ) were whether the proposed civil legal aid residence test in the draft Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2014 is:
- ultra vires the enabling statute and
- unjustifiably discriminatory and so in breach of common law and the Human Rights Act 1998.
At the end of today’s hearing the Supreme Court announced that it was allowing the appeal on ground (1) and full written reasons for the decision will follow in due course.
Following its decision on ground (1) The Supreme Court asked the parties whether they wished to address the Court on the second issue, ground (2). The case has been adjourned while this is considered. The case may therefore not continue tomorrow.
Legal aid is financial assistance provided by the state in limited circumstances to help people defend their legal rights in court. The residence test restricts legal aid to people who are “lawfully resident” in the UK and have been for the past 12 months. The Public Law Project (PLP), which is bringing the case, says that this is outside of the government’s powers and also discriminatory under human rights laws.
The Court has said the PLP are right on their first point, and it may not hear the human rights arguments at all.
Here is some background:
- Watch the hearing live here from 11am. It will last today and tomorrow. Michael Fordham QC will be opening with arguments for the Public Law Project, the brilliant charity which is bringing the appeal.
- More details on the Supreme Court site and the Guardian.
- You can read the original High Court judgment (which the Public Law Project won – see UKHRB) and the Court of Appeal’s judgment (where Lord Justice Laws overturned the High Court judgment).