Vulnerable claimants are not being provided with legal aid under exceptional case funding ‘safety net’ rules, according to Mr Justice Collins. The judge ruled that there ‘must be changes to the scheme’ and that the scheme was ‘not in accordance with the law’.
The ‘main problem’ was with the forms which were ‘far too complicated and are not at all helpful to lay persons’, said Collins. ‘Providers have difficulties with them and the small level of grant has unquestionably, on the evidence which has not shown to be erroneous, led to the unwillingness of providers to take on clients who need to apply for exceptional case finding,’ he added.
‘It is to be noted that it was anticipated that some 5,000 to 7,000 applications would be made in a year. The actual rate was a fraction of that… . It is significant that the scheme has not produced anything like that number of grants, let alone applications. Those who are unable to pay for legal assistance are suffering in a way that Parliament cannot have intended.’
Mr Justice Collins
The Ministry of Justice is set to appeal the decision, while Labour’s justice spokesman Andy Slaughter called for an emergency review of the legislation.
The challenge was brought by the Public Law Project Jo and the group’s head of casework Hickman welcomed the ruling. ‘PLP has long been concerned about the practical operation of the ECF scheme,’ she said. ‘This welcome judgment will help to protect the interests of the many children, patients and other vulnerable adults who would otherwise be unable to achieve justice.’
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