Who? John Halford, partner and public law specialist at London firm Bindmans.
Why is he in the news? Acted for Public Law Project, which took its challenge over the government’s plans to introduce a civil legal aid residence test to the Supreme Court. The court took what is believed to be the unprecedented step of allowing PLP’s appeal midway through the hearing. At the end of the first day, seven justices unanimously ruled that the proposed test, which the government had been seeking to introduce via secondary legislation, was ultra vires the enabling statute.
Thoughts on the case: ‘I was fortunate to have a remarkably courageous client in the Public Law Project which, despite being a small charity, was willing to litigate against the lord chancellor all the way to the Supreme Court; and barristers whose extraordinary commitment was matched by their skill. We all felt very strongly that we were defending fundamental principles of the legal system: that everyone, regardless of national origins and length of residence here, should be able to enforce their rights in British courts on an equal footing.’
Dealing with the media: ‘Normally, receiving a draft judgment in confidence allows a little time to prepare, but the Supreme Court’s instant decision meant I had to compose my thoughts on what to say to the press very quickly. That said, the case has been well reported and most people can understand that rationing justice on discriminatory lines is wrong.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘The opportunities to help all clients get their voices heard and, once in a while, to make society a little fairer, more just and equal.’
Career high: ‘This would be it. Every day, legal aid solicitors can go about their work without having to administer a discriminatory test and withhold legal aid from those who don’t pass it or cannot prove they do.’
Career low: ‘The Court of Appeal’s judgment which prompted this appeal was delivered the very same day as a negative Supreme Court judgment on another case. Not exactly a high point.’