As PLP’s public law work in Wales gathers momentum, Solicitor Matthew Court sets out how our work is beginning to turn the tide on access to justice in Wales but how more must be done to protect those most vulnerable. We know judicial review plays an important role in forging a route to justice – particularly for those who are marginalised and vulnerable. Yet there continues to be a significant fall in the number of judicial review cases in 2021 in Wales. The trend over five years continues with a decline in the number of JR cases brought in England and Wales. Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly from April to June 2021 show a 16% decrease in JR applications in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. During the 2021 Legal Wales conference, Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution highlighted the importance of judicial review as a tool to safeguard for citizens and a helpful guarantor of good decision making. However, evidence disclosed as part of research conducted by Welsh expert Sarah Nason suggested a majority view that people in Wales are reluctant to use legal methods to resolve concerns/disputes with public bodies. PLP has been concerned about the underuse of public law and judicial review in Wales for many years, and these recent statistics show the problem is only worsening. In order to help address the lack of access to judicial review in Wales, my role was created and I began work in Wales in January 2021. Since then. I have been trying to help turn the tide on access to justice in Wales, and highlight below some of the live issues we’ve been working on. Benefit sanctions Welfare benefits issues, particularly benefit sanctions, have been something PLP has focused on over the years and continue to do so in respect of Wales. I have been working extensively with Wales’ only Law Centre, Speakeasy and also local Citizens Advice in Wales to assist individuals with public law issues within the welfare benefits sphere. PLP recently submitted written evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry into the benefits system in Wales. Our recommendations included measures aimed at improving the fairness and affordability of hardship payments; due process of sanctioning decisions and the publishing of data on Universal Credit appeals, hardship payments and ethnicity. PLP is currently researching the barriers that welfare benefit claimants face in challenging and appealing benefit sanction decisions and I am keen to hear from both advisors and claimants in Wales who have experience of this. Disability Discrimination Disability Wales is the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales and have featured large in our partnership work in Wales. For example, most recently, I’ve been working with them to provide public law training and issue spotting. Their recent engagement for their Bring us our Rights Manifesto found that 68% of respondents did not feel their rights were being adequately enforced. To address this, Disability Wales’ key ask is for incorporation of the UNCRDP into Welsh Law – which in England would seem currently unattainable. In Wales relationships between decision makers and campaigners appear to us to be more hopeful with scope for broader change. Asylum Seekers PLP has been working with JUSTICE on issues arising from the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently at the report stage in the House of Commons. The Plaid Cymru Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, spoke against the Bill at Second Reading in the House of Commons, saying that, “the Bill is an assault on the human rights of men and women who happen to be asylum seekers and on our common humanity”. If passed, the measures will be felt by asylum and refugees seeking sanctuary in Wales. Wales currently has four asylum dispersal areas and is currently home to 2353 asylum seekers dispersed and just over a 1000 refugees. Consequently this is a focus of our work in Wales. The environment for migrants, asylum seekers in Wales is already bleak, as it is for those across the whole of the UK. We recently assisted two migrant families in Wales to bring JR challenges against the Secretary of State’s unfair decisions relating to their applications to extend their leave to remain in the UK. In addition, our Justice First Fellowship trainee runs a project specifically focusing on asylum support accommodation in Wales in 2021 and 2022. March 2020, saw the Home Office using a military base in Pembrokeshire to accommodate asylum seekers; a move which was heavily criticised by Welsh Government. PLP acted for three individuals accommodated at the camp, and also an asylum-focused NGO based in Cardiff in relation to a proposed intervention. Happily, the Home Office decided to close the camp before this litigation got underway. EUSS Research by the Welsh Government shows by the application deadline, 9,330 applications to the EU Settlement Scheme from Wales, had not yet received a decision on their status. Delays in process applications are an issue, as is Home Office guidance which allows for any application for pre-settled or settled status to be paused where the person has a pending prosecution or is under police investigation. We are seeing numerous applications being paused for months on end, particularly where there are criminal investigations, and have acted for two individuals in Wales affected by this. We’re keen to speak to others similarly affected. Want to find out more about how our work could help you or those you work with in Wales? Get in touch with our Wales Solicitor, Matthew Court.