Lawyers have warned that the proposed introduction of a residence test for civil legal aid is potentially ‘unlawful, discriminatory and unworkable’ and will leave vulnerable victims without redress.
The plan to restrict legal aid to those with at least 12 months continuous ‘lawful residence’ is contained in the Ministry of Justice consultation on ‘transforming legal aid’, which closes next Tuesday.
The Law Society said those who will be excluded as a result of the cuts will include parents and children involved in child abduction cases, victims of human trafficking and domestic violence, and British babies involved in care proceedings and clinical negligence.
Responding to the consultation, legal aid firm Birnberg Peirce & Partners said the change will also deny access to justice to victims of ‘egregious abuses of power’ by agents of the British state, including the police, the Home Office and the secret intelligence services.
The firm said it is in the interest of the British public, not just those individuals affected, to hold the state to account.
Birnberg Peirce suggested that the residence test is ‘potentially unlawful, discriminatory and unworkable’.
The application is ‘likely’ to lead to a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to ensure equal access to justice for those most at risk – including under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Protocol on Trafficking.
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said the test threatens to prevent some of the most vulnerable people in society from obtaining legal aid.
Chair of the Law Society’s children law committee, Denise Lester, said the proposals are ‘xenophobic’ and ‘completely contrary’ to the rule of law.