A court has ruled that a significant change to the eligibility rules for accessing legal aid is unlawful.
The ‘residence test’ which was controversially approved by the House of Commons last week had meant that people applying for legal aid must be physically in the UK and be able to prove they have lived here lawfully for more than 12 months.
Although asylum seekers would be exempt from the residence test, it threatened to undermine new refugees’ access to justice if they had received their status less than a year since arriving in the country. Others put at risk by the new criteria included victims of trafficking and people who were unable to sufficiently prove their lawful residence.
Following a legal challenge by the Public Law Project, the court found the Lord Chancellor exceeded his statutory powers when devising the changes and that they would be ‘unauthorised, discriminatory and impossible to justify’.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “This ruling is a triumph for justice and sends an important message to politicians; discriminating against people in order to save money is unacceptable and against the law.”