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Tag Archives: LASPO

‘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The argument was that some providers had withdrawn from offering schemes for economic reasons and  the change would promote “sustainability” (that weasel word meaning anything and nothing).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

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Legal aid and divorce: Theresa May’s cackhanded crusade against Sharia courts

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May seems to want some sort of crackdown on the role of Sharia Councils – complaining in particular that their decisions in divorce matters are unfair to women. Yet the Government has virtually cut off all legal aid for divorce proceedings – with the result that many Muslim women will have little choice but to have their cases heard by Sharia Councils. And the review of Sharia in England and Wales by Mona Siddiqui (published 1 February 2018) barely touches on the issue.

Sharia Councils (sometimes known as Sharia courts) are exactly the sort of bodies that the Government might think should be involved in divorce work. The Jewish Beth Din also arbitrates divorce cases, guided by halach, Jewish rabbinical law, and a recent legal case has affirmed that such arbitration will receive a measure of deference in the English and Welsh courts.

In abolishing legal aid for divorce and custody cases except in narrow circumstances, the Ministry of Justice said: “In cases like divorce, courts should more often be a last resort, not the first. Evidence shows that mediation is often more successful, cheaper and less acrimonious for all involved.”

Yet, only now does the Government seem to have realised that family law cases come before Sharia Councils – for advice, mediation or something closer to binding arbitration – and the values of Sharia Councils aren’t necessarily those espoused by Tory ministers and do not meet modern standards regarding female equality.

Yet women who might be dissatisfied with the results of of Sharia Council mediation or arbitration have been cut off from recourse to the courts by the new legal aid rules. As Home Secretary May said in her speech against extremism announcing a review of Sharia Councils: Read the rest of this entry

Daniel Gauntlett hypothermia death verdict

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Note: A full report on this inquest is now in this post: Question’s unanswered in the Daniel Gauntlett inquest

A coroner has recorded a verdict of death by natural causes exacerbated by self neglect in the case of Daniel Gauntlett, a 35-year-old unemployed man who died on the step of an empty boarded up bungalow in Aylesford, Kent, in February 2013.

Campaigners have claimed that he was in effect a victim of  Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, which criminalised squatting in residential property. It had been suggested he “died as a result of obeying the law” because police told him not to squat the empty house.

It has been argued that Gauntlett’s human rights may have been breached either because the Government failed to put in place Article 2 European Convention (right to life) protections when it passed Section 144; or because the police or social services had failed to offer sufficient help to him.

However, the inquest made barely any mention of the squatting issue. Nor was there any call for an examination of Gauntlett’s Article 2 rights under a “Middleton inquest” procedure. The court was told that Gauntlett died from hypothermia on a bitterly cold winter night. Evidence was given of his chronic alcoholism which his father said began when his younger brother died in a road traffic accident at the age of 18.

The deputy coroner for Mid Kent, Kate Thomas, sitting on 10 December 2014, had documentary evidence of Gauntlett’s accident and emergency admissions before her. A local community warden said Gauntlett had refused help on a number of occasions. No evidence was offered regarding squatting or any police intervention to stop him squatting the house he died in front of.

Read a fuller report of the inquest here: Question’s unanswered in the Daniel Gauntlett inquest

Twitter: alrich0660

An earlier piece on the death of Daniel Gauntlett is here
More on the squatting law on Thinking Legally: How protection of property could crumble
And a piece also Daniel Gauntlett inquest: human rights issues and the ‘Middleton’ procedure
Also a piece on Ministry of Justice guidelines on Nearly Legal here.

 

R (Sisangia): woman wins legal aid to pursue Metropolitan Police false imprisonment claim

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A woman has won a significant case giving her legal aid to pursue an allegation of false imprisonment against the London Metropolitan Police – despite a claim by lawyers that legal aid was barred by the Coalition Government’s draconian LASPO legislation [Note: see however Court of Appeal reversal at end of this piece].

The case of R (Sunita Sisangia) v Director of Legal Aid Casework means legal aid will not be restricted to tort claims in which police are accused of dishonesty in detaining people unlawfully. Legal aid will be available for a wider set of claims: when police detain someone deliberately (whether or not dishonestly) knowing harm might come to the detainee as a result of the detention.

Sisangia had been arrested just after at 4am one morning in January 2011 after a neighbour reported alleged harassment two weeks earlier. She was held for more than 11 hours. “Ms Sisangia says that she was not provided with permission to take her medication until she saw a doctor at 0810 hours, and was not provided with food or water until 0953 hours. Ms Sisangia alleges she was not provided with any further food apart from water and a cup of tea, was released from custody at 1545 hours.” Police decided there was no criminal case against her.

Sisangia’s claim for being wrongly detained is in part based on the police being aware of the history of her dispute with the neighbour during which she had been allegedly threatened and as a result of which she had been given a panic alarm by the police. She considers it was unnecessary to have arrested her in a “dawn raid”.

Read the rest of this entry

Squatting, adverse possession and the LASPO s.144 debacle

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Ancient Roman law gives illegal squatter £400,000 home. Or so you would think from the coverage of builder Keith Best’s Land Registry claim to have 35 Church Road, Newbury Park, Ilford, registered in his name.

The importance of the case is (or will be when it goes through appeals) that it should clarify how far the criminalisation of squatting (LASPO S.144) impacts on the law of adverse possession.

It’s a knotty problem. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 rendered squatting criminal if the occupier “is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser”. The Act is in a sense retrospective. You fall within it even if you entered the premises before the Act was passed – in Best’s case around 2001. Best unfortunately staked his adverse possession claim after the Act came into force so the land registrar rejected it on the grounds he was an illegal trespasser according to the meaning of Section 144.

Adverse possession, far from being a Roman law, is covered by Schedule 6 to the Land Registration Act 2002 which says: “A person may apply to the registrar to be registered as the proprietor of a registered estate in land if he has been in adverse possession of the estate for the period of ten years ending on the date of the application.” A further two years is allowed while the registrar contacts the registered owner (“the proprietor of the estate to which the application relates,“) plus others with a potential interest to see if they object to the transfer to a new owner.

Read the rest of this entry

Nigel Evans legal fees: thank the Tories we don’t have to pay

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Friends of Nigel Evans, the British House of Commons deputy speaker cleared of nine sexual offences, have complained that he has been financially wiped out by £130,000 of defence costs in the court case. And wags of a legal disposition have pointed out that he has only his own Tory-led Government to blame.

Conservative MP for Northampton South Brian Binley,  a friend and flatmate of Evans, and Tory Bob Stewart have both pointed out Evans must pay his defence costs even though he was acquitted of all charges – and the Crown Prosecution Service criticised for pursuing them. And Evans himself now says the state should pay. But none of them has made the link with Section 16A of the Prosecution of Offences Act, added by amendment to the act by the notorious Legal Aid Act (LASPO) in 2012.

This stops defence costs being awarded for those not legally aided except under limited circumstances. Costs can be awarded: Read the rest of this entry

Anti-squatting law and the death of Daniel Gauntlett

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It is six months or so since the passing of a law criminalising trespassing in Britain and already there is – apparently – a tragic victim and – certainly – a nasty political row. The victim is Daniel Gauntlett, a 35-year-old unemployed man who died in the bitter cold on the step of an empty boarded up bungalow in Aylesford, Kent. Reports suggested police had been involved in preventing him breaking in to the house some time previously – “and so Mr Gauntlett, had taken the fatal decision to abide by the law,” according to news service KentOnline.

Campaigners against Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which criminalised squatting in residential property, believe the new law may be responsible for Mr Gauntlett’s death.

Some go further and are pinning the blame directly on MP Mike Weatherley, who introduced the anti-squatting legislation into the House of Commons, a suggestion pursued with unpleasant vigour – hence the controversy.

The claim against him is that he insists squatters are generally young, politically motivated leftists whose aim is to undermine notions of property, whereas here was a bona fide homeless man who died as a result of the new law.

In answer Mr Weatherley told the Kent Argus: “It is true that some of those who are homeless have squatted but this does not make them squatters. Read the rest of this entry

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