MPs will tomorrow (9 July) vote on new legal aid cuts which could see torture victims denied their day in court, and leave the Government immune from legal challenges for wrongdoing overseas.
The measures, known as the ‘residence test,’ would block anyone resident outside the UK from receiving legal aid. The result would be that Government actions which affected people living overseas would become near-impossible for anyone but the richest to challenge in court.
A number of recent, high-profile cases would no longer be possible under the new system, including those of:
- Retired Gurkhas who brought a 2008 legal challenge over the Government’s refusal to allow them to settle in the UK.
- Victims of kidnap, ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture, in which the UK Government was complicit.
- Afghan translators who worked on behalf of the UK Armed Forces but have been denied asylum in the UK, despite ongoing threats to their lives in their home country.
Two Parliamentary Select Committees have issued critical reports concerning the proposal: the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) warned last month that “the residence test will inevitably lead to breaches by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” while the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) has said of the case put forward by the Government that it “does not find these arguments persuasive.”
An internal Ministry of Justice document has revealed that no savings have been identified as a result of the policy, although it is likely to cause "an increase in costs" to the Legal Aid Agency.
Ministers aim to pass the measure without debate tomorrow, as a Statutory Instrument (SI), despite concerns raised by the JSCI that this would exceed the powers allowed under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. MPs will also be barred from any attempts to amend the regulation.
Kat Craig, legal director of the human rights and legal charity Reprieve said: “The residence test would do lasting and serious damage to the concept that no-one, not even the Government, is above the law. Deserving cases – such as victims of ‘rendition’ operations in which the UK was complicit – would be denied their day in court. MPs must not let the Government sneak this measure through the back-door without any debate.”