PLP has been involved in a number of important legal cases that have shaped the current legal aid scheme, which were brought with the intention of protecting access to legal aid. You can read more about these cases in this section.

  • Gudanaviciene & Ors, R (on the application of) v The Director of Legal Aid Casework & Ors [2014] EWHC 1840 and EWCA Civ 1622. PLP was instructed by the Official Solicitor to represent one of the Claimants in this case, I.S., a man who was blind and who had severe mental health difficulties. The Claimants challenged the lawfulness of the Government’s interpretation of the test for when Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) should be available under LASPO, and the lawfulness of the guidance used by Legal Aid Agency caseworkers when deciding ECF applications. The case was successful in both the High Court and Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal confirmed that a right to ECF could arise under Article 8 ECHR (and other ECHR Articles), and that ECF would be required where it was necessary to enable an individual “to present their case effectively and without obvious unfairness”. The Court of Appeal also found that the guidance was unlawful because Legal Aid Agency caseworkers who followed it were likely to apply the wrong test when deciding applications.
  • Ben Hoare Bell Solicitors & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2015] EWHC 523 (Admin). In April 2014 the Government introduced an amendment to the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 which meant that lawyers would have to prepare judicial review cases for court without any certainty of being paid for their work. This threatened access to legal aid for judicial review claims, particularly for vulnerable people with complex cases. PLP represented four law firms (Ben Hoare Bell, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Mackintosh Law, Public Law Solicitors) and the charity Shelter as Claimants in a judicial review challenge to these regulations. The High Court agreed with Claimants that the regulations were inconsistent with the purpose of LASPO and ordered that they be quashed. After the case succeeded, new regulations were introduced which presented less of a financial risk to providers, and so not as much of a barrier to justice for people who need to hold the state to account.
  • I.S. v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and The Lord Chancellor [2015] EWHC 1965 (Admin); and The Director of Legal Aid Casework and The Lord Chancellor v IS [2016] EWCA Civ 464. PLP represented the Claimant I.S. (who was also a Claimant in Gudanaviciene v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and The Lord Chancellor) in this judicial review challenge to the operation of the ECF scheme which the Claimant argued was inaccessible to people who needed ECF to prevent a breach of their rights under the ECHR or EU law; the guidance for Legal Aid Agency caseworkers deciding ECF applications which had not been changed after the Court of Appeal found it was unlawful in Gudanaviciene; and the merits criteria for legal aid which had abolished legal aid for cases where the prospects of success were borderline or less. The evidence filed in I.S. highlighted the barriers to accessing ECF that were faced by people applying for it. The High Court found that the scheme was operating unlawfully, that new guidance for Legal Aid Agency caseworkers issued at the start of the hearing was unlawful and that the merits criteria for legal aid were unlawful. However, the Court of Appeal did not agree, with two of three Lord Justices who heard the case finding that the ECF scheme was working lawfully, and that the guidance and merits criteria were lawful. In response to the litigation, the government shortened the ECF form; introduced the possibility of getting funding to investigate whether an ECF application could be made; and changed the merits criteria so that legal aid could be available for some borderline cases.
  • Rights of Women, R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice[2016] EWCA Civ 91. Under LASPO, people who have been, or are at risk of being, the victim of domestic violence can still access in scope legal aid for some family cases that LASPO had otherwise taken it away from. To access this in scope legal aid, someone has to provide evidence of domestic violence or a risk of domestic violence. The types of evidence that will be accepted are specified in the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012. PLP represented Rights of Women, a charity, in a judicial review challenge to those regulations. The High Court dismissed the case, but Rights of Women appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that parts of the regulations were inconsistent with the purpose of LASPO, particularly the requirement that evidence be no more than 24 months old, and the lack of provision for evidence of financial abuse. In response to the judgment the regulations were changed. The time limit on the age of evidence was increased, first to five years and then removed completely, and evidence of financial abuse was specified as acceptable evidence.
  • The Public Law Project, R (on the application of) v Lord Chancellor [2016] UKSC 39. In September 2013 the Lord Chancellor decided to introduce a ‘residence test’ for legal aid. The residence test would have meant that, subject to some exceptions, only people who were lawfully resident in the UK could get legal aid. PLP brought a judicial review challenge to this proposal in our own name. We argued that LASPO did not give the Lord Chancellor the power to make an order excluding a category of people from getting legal aid, and that the residence test was unlawfully discriminatory. The case was heard by the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. In April 2016 the Supreme Court unanimously allowed our appeal, finding that the Lord Chancellor did not have the power under LASPO to make the order. Because we brought this challenge the residence test has not been introduced.
  • R. (oao Law Centres Federation Ltd.) v The Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 1588. PLP was instructed by the Law Centres Network to bring a judicial review challenge to the Lord Chancellor’s proposed changes to the procurement of the Housing Possession Court Duty (HPCD) scheme contracts. These proposals consolidated the HPCD scheme areas, reducing the number of contracts from over 100 to 47, and introduced price competition. The Law Centres Network was concerned about the negative impact that the larger scheme areas and price competitive tendering would have on Law Centres’ ability to continue to deliver their local HPCDS and other related services; and about the impact on people who depend on representation in the HPCDS and the additional support provided by Law Centres to keep their homes. The High Court found that, in deciding to proceed with the proposals, the Lord Chancellor had acted irrationally, failed to properly investigate the impact of the changes on Law Centres and their clients, and had acted in breach of his duty under section 149 Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to the impact of policies on people with protected characteristics.
  • Embarrassment Clause. PLP also successfully resisted the introduction of a clause into the Legal Aid Agency’s criminal contracts that could have prevented firms from legitimately criticising or challenging the Legal Aid Agency and the government.  The clause allowed for rms to be penalised or have their contracts ended if they did anything that ‘embarrassed’ or brought the Legal Aid Agency ‘into disrepute.’ In response to a pre-action letter sent by PLP on behalf of a law firm and a practitioners’ association, the Legal Aid Agency confirmed that it would not use the clause to stifle criticism or challenge, and that it would consult with, amongst others, the Law Society and the Bar Council, before deciding whether to revise the clause or make a statement clarifying its meaning.