Update on All-Party Group on Legal Aid
Eleanor Sanders, project worker to the All-Party Group (APG) on Legal Aid, writes:
The APG held a meeting on 15 May 2013 to discuss the government’s current consultation, Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system, which was open until 4 June. The meeting was very well attended and we had an excellent panel of speakers. It mainly focused on judicial review, prison law, and the proposed new residence test for civil legal aid claimants. Strong opposition was expressed against the government’s plans.
Attack on lawyers and clients
Laura Janes, a solicitor at Scott-Moncrieff & Associates LLP and a consultant solicitor at the Howard League for Penal Reform, opened the meeting by outlining the consultation and emphasising that it was full of hidden consequences – human, financial and political. Tim Owen QC then discussed the many landmark decisions that have improved prisoners’ rights over the last 30 years, none of which would have been possible without legal aid.
Michael Fordham QC said that the consultation was an attack on those the government perceived as ‘timewasters’ and ‘unworthy’, namely, legal aid lawyers and clients. He countered that under the proposals, time would be wasted by lawyers preparing judicial review applications that would not be remunerated if not granted permission. This element of risk would prevent many valuable applications from being brought: the worth of the cases would not matter.
Flawed consultation
Alison Harvey, general secretary at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, discussed the proposed new residence test for those claiming civil legal aid. She said that this was not just a legal aid problem, or an immigration problem, but an access to justice problem. The test would also create a huge administrative burden. She felt that the government is more likely to be persuaded by arguments about unlawfulness and unworkability than about access to justice. Lord Beecham argued that the consultation was flawed – it was only eight weeks long, including two bank holidays, and substantial corrections had had to be issued as soon as it was published.
There were then many valuable contributions from the audience. In particular, Anne Hall, the mother of disabled former prisoner Daniel Roque Hall, spoke movingly about the assistance her son had received through legal aid to challenge his treatment in prison. David Lammy MP stressed the importance of public awareness and urged practitioners to take strike action.
■ Full meeting notes will soon be available at: www.appg-legalaid.org/. ■ For further information about attending future APG meetings, please e-mail: conference@lapg.co.uk and quote ‘APG on Legal Aid’ in the subject line.

About the author(s)

Eleanor Sanders is a barrister at One Pump Court. She was a project worker to the All-Party Group on Legal Aid.