UK justice minister Chris Grayling has received a judicial slapping and been prevented from turning legal aid into “an instrument of discrimination” today, after three judges found his reforms to be unlawful.
In a devastating judgement which could bring the residency test requirements to a halt, the judges found the lord chancellor had radically overstepped the proper limits of his powers and was trying to create a discriminatory legal system which was incompatible with equality under the law.
“Using powers that were never his to exercise, the lord chancellor has attempted to refashion the legal aid scheme into an instrument of discrimination so that many of the cases parliament itself identified as most worthy of support could never be taken,” John Halford of legal firm Bindmans, which fought the case, said.
“The court’s judgement on that attempt is emphatic: it is simply unacceptable in a country where all are equal in the eyes of the law.
“Legal aid is, and must remain, the means to safeguard equality in our courts, regardless of people’s origins, nationality or place of residence.”
Grayling’s proposed reforms would have banned anyone who had been in the UK for less than a year from receiving legal aid.
Critics warned the proposals would prevent some of the most vulnerable people in society from legal protection.
The judges imagined the case of a severely learning disabled adult, who had been “forced to live in a dog kennel outside the house, had been beaten regularly by his brother and mother, and starved over an extensive period of time”. Under Grayling’s plans, he would have been denied legal aid.
Individuals who were resident abroad who had been subject to “serious abuses” at the hand of British armed forces would also be denied legal aid.
The joint human rights committee recently warned the reforms were illegal under international law and called on the lord chancellor to exclude children from its provisions, but he refused to budge. There were also concerns it could strip trafficked women and domestic abuse survivors of legal protection.