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‘Inaccurate and misleading’: Judge rejects Legal Aid Agency’s attack on eviction advice service

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A High Court judge has delivered a devastating crtitique of the UK Legal Aid Agency over its moves to change the way people facing eviction or repossession of their homes receive legal help. A crucial part of his argument for the change was based on a claim that was “both inaccurate and misleading” – or, as will be seen (and thankfully this blogpost can be less circumspect in its language), what is commonly known as “untrue”. The LAA had claimed two lawyers organisations backed the changes. In fact they had not been asked for their view.

The arguments of the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency used to justify the change were “based on assumption or conjecture or, at most, ‘anecdotal’ evidence from a handful of un-named providers [of the legal services]”, said Mrs Justice Andrews, hearing a judicial review application brought by the Law Centres Network (pdf) in the High Court.

The matter at issue was the Housing Possession Court Duty (HPCD) schemes that seek to ensure on-the-day legal advice and representation for people in court facing repossession and eviction. They are largely funded by legal aid to the tune of £3.6m a year – 0.2% of the legal aid total – and in many cases not-for-profit organisations, including local law centres, have the contracts to do the work.

Around 2014 the Legal Aid Agency suggested the schemes should be subject to price competition for the first time and re-tendered in a more consolidated form – ie a reduced number of schemes covering wider areas rather than focused on local courts. (At around this time there were were 117 HPCD schemes covering 167 courts; this was to be reduced to less than 50).

The argument was that some providers had withdrawn from offering schemes for economic reasons and  the change would promote “sustainability” (that weasel word meaning anything and nothing). But Andrews found no evidence for either contention. Read the rest of this entry

AA v Southwark – a conspiracy to evict ‘whether lawfully or not’

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A British High Court judge has accused officers at Southwark Council, London, of conspiracy to cause harm to a council tenant by unlawfully destroying his possessions and an illegal eviction. The council has been forced to compensate the tenant, AA, left street-homeless without income or possessions by the eviction, for an unknown sum. AA’s original claim was for £2.4m.

The judge, Anthony Thornton QC, in AA v London Borough of Southwark, said council officers were determined to secure the eviction “whether it was lawful or not”. As a result officers and the council itself were liable for misfeasance in public office. “They had limited prospects of evicting him lawfully and they therefore appear to have embarked on an eviction with the intention of evicting AA even though this could not be done lawfully.”

The entire contents of AA’s flat in Peckham, including his passport, laptops, papers, personal belongings and furniture were removed and illegally destroyed in a refuse disposal facility. The court heard that AA had made repeated attempts in the High Court and County Court to regain possession of his flat and to regain his belongings and also tried to discuss his predicament with council officials. As a result of his eviction he was street homeless for more than a year except for the use of a sofa or floor space in  friends homes for part of the time. His only income was financial assistance from those friends.

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