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Residence Test for Legal Aid delayed

Residence Test for Legal Aid delayed
The Government’s recent attempt to introduce a ‘residence test’ for civil legal aid has been delayed following the outcome of a recent judgment. The Government’s plans were to limit access to legal aid to people who have a ‘strong connection’ to the UK, which the Government defines as having at least twelve months ‘lawful residence’ in the UK. The Government was attempting to implement the test through secondary legislation meaning that it would not have been subject to debate in the parliament and there would have been no opportunity for MPs or Peers to table amendments to the legislation. The Joint Committee on Human Rights had concluded that the residence test will lead to breaches of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

However, the Government’s plans were dealt a serious blow due to the outcome of a recent judgment which found that the test is ‘unauthorised, discriminatory and impossible to justify’. Three judges gave a unanimous judgment that the test is unlawful, that the Lord Chancellor exceeded his statutory powers when devising it and that it would discriminate against ‘foreigners’ without justification. A summary of the judgment is also available.

This judgment meant the Government had to withdraw the legislation which was due to be debated in the House of Lords this week. This useful briefing from a group of NGOs calls on the Lords to reject the test and contains 10 reasons why the test should not be bought in. The Ministry of Justice has said it will appeal the judgment and is seeking other ways to implement the test. But in the meantime, the test will not be coming into force in August as expected.

Guidance on unaccompanied and trafficked children published

The Government has issued statutory guidance on the care of unaccompanied and trafficked children in the looked after system. We are pleased to see several improvements following consultation on the guidance including the inclusion of a section on age assessments, which was previously not even mentioned, strengthened language regarding training for social workers, returns and obligations in terms of working with solicitors.