The Appeal judges have ruled that the legislation providing for the availability of legal aid was ‘disgracefully complex’. In the case of Ronald Brown v London Borough of Haringey, Lord Justice McCombe stated that the question of legal aid availability in county court proceedings needed to be clear. The case concerned the availability of legal aid for an appeal against a committal for contempt of court.
- You can download the judgment here (PDF).
‘The question of the availability of legal aid in such proceedings needs to be clear to lawyer and layman alike,’ said Lord Justice McCombe. ‘It is not. The legislation is disgracefully complex.’ Ronald Brown applied for permission to appeal against a county court order committing him to prison for 18 months for contempt of court for breaches of injunctions. Brown made several attempts to obtain legal aid. According to the court, his solicitors were sent ‘from pillar to post’ in the weeks before the hearing by both the civil and criminal legal aid authorities and ‘as a result whatever right he might have had to public funding was lost for all practical purposes’.
Brown was already in prison when he received an order granting legal aid in January this year. This was before he chose to appeal on the basis that the lack of public funding him from having a fair trial.
In respect of legal aid for the appeal, there was legislation – the Legal Aid Act 1988, section 29 – which allowed the county court to grant representation but this has not been replaced in LASPO. The result was that there was ‘no clear legislative provision providing in straightforward terms that applications for publicly funded representation for committal proceedings in the County Court are to be made to the Director…although nothing could be simpler’.
In allowing his appeal, Lord Justice McCombe remarked:
‘At least until some improvement is made to the drafting of the legislation, it seems to me that it is important that all involved in committal proceedings in the County Courts should be aware of the route to be taken in applying for legal aid in such proceedings. For my part, I would encourage the LAA, the Courts Service, the judiciary, the professions and the voluntary organisations (that assist litigants) to co-operate in ensuring at an early stage in committal proceedings that all concerned are aware of the authority to which legal aid applications in such cases are to be made and what the entitlements are.’
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