An internal Ministry of Justice (MoJ) document has revealed that the Justice Secretary’s plans for a cut to legal aid – known as the ‘Residence Test’ – may not result in any savings.
An impact assessment produced by the MoJ states that not only are any savings resulting from the policy "N/Q [not quantified]," but may actually result in "an increase in costs" to the Legal Aid Agency.
The Residence Test would mean that anyone who is not resident in the UK at the time of applying for legal aid will be barred from receiving it. Concerns have been raised that this could hit important cases such as victims of rendition and torture in which the UK has been complicit, or those of the retired Gurkhas who were denied the right to settle in Britain.
MPs are this morning (1 July) considering the policy, in the wake of a warning from Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights that it will "lead to breaches by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) because it will in practice prevent children from being effectively represented in legal proceedings which affect them."
The impact assessment, unearthed by the legal charity Reprieve, appears to be at odds with the Justice Secretary's claim that his reforms will "reduce the cost of legal aid."
Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said: "We already know that the 'Residence Test' will shut important cases out of the courts, leaving the Government effectively immune from legal challenge for wrongdoing overseas. Now we find that even the MoJ doesn't know whether it will produce any savings at all - and in fact thinks it will result in increased costs for parts of Government. It is hard to see what the point is of a reform which not only reduces state accountability, but may end up costing more than it saves."