Last updated:2023-09-18
Legal Aid Agency climbs down on embarrassment clause
A controversial clause in the draft criminal legal aid contract looks likely to be dropped after legal aid lawyers threatened a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). The ‘embarrassment clause’ in the contract, which is due for implementation in April 2017, could have been used to gag criticism of the LAA and the government.
Two firms, along with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, had instructed the Public Law Project (PLP) to represent them in judicial review proceedings against the LAA. In response to a letter before claim, the LAA conceded that the clause would not be relied on to ‘stifle criticism’ and agreed to talks on revising it.
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According to PLP solicitor David Oldfield (pictured), the clause should never have passed the consultation stage as it was ‘clearly always going to be unlawful’.
He also said that a legal aid lawyer’s ‘duty to their clients and the courts will always trump any obligation to save a third party, like the [LAA], from embarrassment’. One of the parties to the case told Legal Action that they believed the LAA had conceded ‘everything we had asked for’. The LAA has agreed to meet groups representing legal aid practitioners in the next few weeks to discuss a redraft of the contract.
Legal Action understands that talks are taking place between the Ministry of Justice and groups representing family law specialists over the regulations on granting legal aid in domestic violence cases. In February this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that victims should not have to produce evidence of domestic violence within the last two years to qualify for legal aid (R (Rights of Women) v Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2016] EWCA Civ 91).