This week, the High Court will begin a judicial review which could affect government cuts to legal aid.
The Exceptional Case Funding scheme created by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) is being challenged by a vulnerable individual only identified as ‘IS’.
When LASPO cut almost all access to legal aid in family cases, the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme was also introduced so that some people would still be able to apply for help. LASPO defined an “exceptional case” as any in which a lack of legal representation might constitute a breach of a person’s human rights.
Lawyers from the legal charity Public Law Project will represent IS. They will argue that the ECF scheme is unlawful as it actually does more to prevent access to legal aid for those who need it the most than it does to help.
Prior to the review, Public Law Project has announced that it would produce “compelling evidence … that the application process is long drawn out, complex and time consuming”. They claim that as solicitors are only paid for successful applications, many are unwilling to even attempt them.
Last year, IS and others successfully challenged the Lord Chancellor’s guidance on the ECF scheme. In that case, the High Court ruled that denying IS exceptional case funding for legal aid using the guidance was unlawful.
This will not be the first legal challenge to aspects of LASPO. Earlier this year, the High Court rejected calls by women’s charities to change the requirements necessary to qualify for legal aid after experiencing domestic violence.