By Will Horwitz
Last year we wrote a lot on this blog about Government’s cuts to legal aid. Despite determined campaigning and unprecedented defeats in the House of Lords, government forced through most of the cuts and from this April organisations like Community Links have lost almost all our legal aid funding; in our case this means capacity to provide 850 people with legal advice for serious debt and benefit problems. We have managed to find money from elsewhere to cover some of this in the short term but many are missing out, the solution is not sustainable and many other organisations haven’t been as lucky.
But while we were getting to grips with the changes Government began a consultation on another round of reforms. Most of this tranche are focused on criminal legal aid which is dominating the headlines but two changes could have important consequences for people in Newham and our clients. Shelter’s Ellie Robinson has explained them in detail on the Shelter blog:
Here is a typical scenario of someone who turns to Shelter for help:
A family is faced with the horrifying prospect of homelessness. This can happen surprisingly quickly, as a small thing – like job loss – can rapidly create a spiral that leads to arrears and possession proceedings. They approach their local council to ask for help.
Despite their legal obligation to find the family a place to stay, the local authority refuses. In desperate circumstances the family turns to Shelter for help, because they don’t know where they’ll be sleeping that night or the next.
Shelter advisors ask council officers to reconsider but the local authority sticks to their guns, so Shelter issues a Judicial Review. At which point either the local authority concede and accommodate the family, or the Court issues an emergency injunction forcing them to do so. The family now have a roof over their heads and are safe for the night so the Judicial Review is withdrawn.
The government’s new proposals would remove the funding for a case like this; where permission to proceed with the Judicial Review (JR) is not granted by a judge.
Under other aspects of the changes, many other people will not be eligible for legal aid at all, regardless of how desperate their situation. The proposals demand people prove they have lived in the UK for 12 months – even if they are British citizens, refugees, victims of trafficking or destitute children.