Law Society intervention ensures liberal approach to dealing with concurrent problems on legal aid

The High Court has today (29 September) handed down its judgment in R v Lawstop*, a judicial review case where the Law Society intervened.

The judicial review related to four cases involving homeless people who also sought community care legal aid. The Law Society intervened in the case because of the strong public interest in the outcome.

Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said: “This case shines a light on the growing challenges for firms trying to provide legal aid, not only for housing and community care, but potentially other areas of law as well.

“Many firms can no longer afford to provide legally aided work and are choosing to leave the market. Overly restrictive approaches to billing as highlighted in this case place the fragile legal aid system under even greater stress.

“In bringing this case on behalf of its clients, Lawstop has ensured that the law has been clarified, which is beneficial for the profession. We will continue to intervene in such cases wherever possible, to ensure that the court is fully aware of the effect of the Legal Aid Agency's (LAA) decision on the rights of the clients our members strive daily to assist.”

Commenting on the judge’s remarks, Lubna Shuja said: “We are pleased the judge accepted our interventions, making clear that the correct test for ‘matter starts’** does not involve deciding which of the legal problems is the predominant one and then allowing only for that.

“The correct test is simply whether the client has more than one separate and distinct legal problem.

“The judge also said it would have been wrong for the LAA assessor to have decided that there could not be a legal problem unless there was first a dispute.

“This important clarification means the LAA will no longer be able to refuse matter starts on what the judge confirmed is an unlawful premise.

“The LAA needs to understand where separate areas of law need separate advice, according to the rules of the legal aid system.

“Homeless clients with separate care needs should be able to get advice to address both problems.

“As a result of this judgment, the LAA will be able to help the most vulnerable in society to get the legal help they need.”

Notes to editors

* R v Lawstop was a judicial review (JR) related to four cases involving homeless people who also sought community care legal aid. Lawstop brought the JR against the LAA after it decided that the claimant had been in breach of the contract by opening a second matter start in each case in community care.

** A ‘matter start’ is the start of a new case under the very first part of a legal aid certificate.

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