JusticeWatch: The LAA’s facile assumptions

The LAA’s facile assumptions
The High Court has this morning ruled that the MoJ decision to contract for fewer, larger housing solicitor duty desk schemes was unreasonable and ordered that new contracts be quashed. The legal action as brought by the Law Centres Network.

There are currently 113 duty desk schemes across England and Wales and last year the MoJ decided to consolidate them into 47 schemes through a tender which included price competition .

The LCN argued that MoJ revamped the scheme ‘on questionable, untested assumptions’ and without proper analysis of its effect on people for whom the service is intended. Mrs Justice Andrews said that ‘this decision was one that no reasonable decision-maker could reach on the state of the evidence that LAA [Legal Aid Agency] had gathered… no data was available to connect small schemes with lack of viability’.

She also said that there was ‘a real risk’ that clients would ‘no longer have the same access to the “wrap around” services that are not covered by Legal Aid and which may make all the difference to whether they end up homeless and destitute’.

Andrews concluded that LAA made a ‘facile assumption’ to consider the duty scheme in isolation. ‘It is beyond argument that users of the duty schemes disproportionately have protected characteristics… some of them will get a worse service overall.’ The judge also criticised the LAA for a lack of evidence for the reforms saying that ‘no attempt was made’ in this case to work out the value of the contracts to withdrawing providers ‘let alone to carry out any form of financial modelling before the decisions under challenge were taken’.

‘This judicial review arose from our deep concern about the impact of changes, proposed for no good reason, on people about to lose their home,’ said Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network. ‘With early legal advice almost entirely cut, duty desks are key to reaching people who could not find or access prior help.’

‘How can legal aid be a public service that is fit for purpose if it only solves part of people’s problems? We are sick to death of changes being imposed that have no regard for the real-life situations people face. Rather than thinking up problems that do not exist, this is the problem that MoJ should solve.’
Julie Bishop

Only half of all immigration detainees have a lawyer compared to eight out of 10 prior to the 2013 legal aid cuts – as reported on the Justice Gap (here). In its annual survey, the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees spoke to 103 detainees being held in removal centres and found that, of the 50% of detainees held in detention that had legal representatives, only 61% had a publicly funded legal aid solicitor.

‘These results once again highlight the scale of injustice in our immigration detention system. It is an outrage that 50% of detainees do not have a legal representative. Not only does the Home Office lock individuals up without trial, separating families and damaging vulnerable people, detainees are denied the legal representation that would enable them to challenge these decisions.’
Celia Clarke, BID’s director


Drug court threat
‘We must not let it go under, we really must not,’ said district judge Nicholas Crichton of the family drug and alcohol court (FDAC). The Law Society’s Gazette reported that FDAC’s national unit will close in September. The unit has helped to establish a dozen courts covering 15 local authorities.

‘The adversarial system does not work in family law – it’s what we have to fall back on if the parents are not willing to listen to us and make use of the support we give them,’ Crichton said. ‘But a system that removes the fourth, fifth or sixth child – which happens quite routinely – from families without doing anything about the reasons for the removal is a failing system. Getting government to understand that is actually quite a challenge.’

Sir James Munby, outgoing president of the family division, said the ‘profoundly disturbing news’ demonstrated a ‘failure of imagination, of vision and of commitment’ by national and local government.

Failing Grayling
Labour has accused ministers of ‘dragging their feet’ as new figures revealed that millions of pounds are still owed to workers forced to pay fees under an ill-fated scheme brought in by Chris Grayling – according to Matt Foster in Politics Home.

Apparently, the new figures show that the MoJ has so far refunded less than a quarter of the £32m in fees netted by the Government while the charges were in force.


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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