A High Court judge has sought to clear up confusion over who has the power to grant legal aid for committal proceedings in a case stemming from the sale of Wimbledon tennis tickets.
Mr Justice Chamberlain invited the Legal Aid Agency to make submissions on whether the court has the power to make a legal aid determination in the favour of Luke McKay. The All England Lawn Tennis Club and All England Lawn Tennis Ground allege that McKay is a ticket tout and applied to commit him to prison for contempt for allegedly breaching an interim injunction granted in July.
In a hearing today, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: 'The authorities are saying it's the court that has the relevant authority. Yet the director [of the Legal Aid Agency] is saying... it's the agency and director who make it.'
Mr Justice Chamberlain was told by Michael Rimer, for the agency, that if the court were to make an order, the agency would substitute it with their own grant of representation. Noting the comments about clarity in Mr Justice Chamberlain's October judgment, Rimer said his client wanted him to 'impress' the point that helpful guidance about the application process could be found on the agency's website.
Mr Justice Chamberlain said: 'The reference in my judgment to unclarity was reference to the fact that, however clear the position might be on the LAA website, it is not in accordance in what the case law says. That's the issue that needs to be resolved. It is not satisfactory for the case law to say one thing and the LAA to say something else even if the practical effect is the same.'
Rimer said practitioners should be 'well versed' in how to make such legal aid applications. However, Mr Justice Chamberlain said, 'practitioners also read the case law. If there's a difference between what the case law is saying and what the LAA is saying, they should follow the case law, shouldn't they? Judges declare the law, not the LAA'.
Mr Justice Chamberlain made his points because, to him, the case law and the Legal Aid Agency 'should be singing from the same hymn sheet'.
After taking 15 minutes to deliberate his decision, Mr Justice Chamberlain told the court that the agency had confirmed criminal legal aid is available for committal proceedings arising from civil conduct in all venues, and is not means tested. Where the proceedings take place in the High Court or above, the interests of justice is automatically satisfied, with the result that legal aid is available without any assessment of the means or merit of the case. 'In this case, legal aid is available as of right,' he said.
McKay attended today's hearing and confirmed that he wished to be represented and had found a solicitor, Adam Tear, a partner at London firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who he is meeting next week.
Mr Justice Chamberlain decided not to make a representation order and told the court he will give a fuller judgment on the powers to do so in due course. He adjourned the case for 21 days. He said: 'I make clear to Mr McKay that it is very much in his interest to ensure he engages with a legal representative as soon as possible. If he does not, all the court's coercive powers will [become] available. This includes powers to detain him if necessary'.