Legal aid cuts will still shut out torture victims

By agency reporter
5 Sep 2013

Despite the concessions announced this morning (5 September), the Justice Secretary’s planned cuts to legal aid will still deny justice to a wide range of people wronged by the UK Government – from victims of torture and rendition to Gurkhas and Afghan interpreters denied the right to settle in Britain, says the legal and human rights charity Reprieve

In an interview with The Times published this morning, Chris Grayling gave no indication of any planned changes to the ‘residence test,’ which would, according to the Ministry of Justice, “have the effect of excluding both foreign nationals and British nationals applying from outside the UK, Crown Dependencies or British Overseas Territories from receiving civil legal aid.”

The plans would therefore still cut off access to justice for cases such as:

- The challenge brought by Afghan interpreters who had worked for UK Armed Forces against the government’s refusal to allow them refuge in the UK.
- The case brought by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, which exposed the UK Government’s complicity in torture.
- The judicial review brought by retired Gurkhas against the Government’s refusal to allow them to settle in the UK.

Before they came to power, both David Cameron and Nick Clegg called for a full inquiry into UK complicity in torture in response to the revelations of the Binyam Mohamed case. However, under the plans brought forward by their government, he would have been ineligible for legal aid as a result of not being in Britain at the time of making the application – even though this was because he was detained without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Grayling’s plans therefore allow for the scenario where a British citizen illegally detained and tortured overseas, with the complicity of the UK Government, is unable to access justice in the British courts.

Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “Disappointingly, the Government remains more focused on cheap headlines than on real justice when it comes to their plans for legal aid. The reality is that the ‘residence test’ is the latest in a long line of attempts by the Government to silence its critics in the courts. David Cameron and Nick Clegg once thought that torture victims and Gurkhas denied the right to live in Britain deserved their day in court – why are they now backing plans which would shut them out?”

[Ekk/4]

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