A court has today stated that the Government’s plans to introduce a ‘residence test’ for civil legal aid is unlawful, following a hard-hitting campaign supported by ECPAT UK.

In today’s judgement, a specially convened  three-judge Divisional court unanimously said the proposals, to prevent those who could not prove 12 months’ lawful residence in the UK from accessing legal aid, amounted to unlawful discrimination and said the Lord Chancellor did not have the legal power to introduce such a test.

ECPAT UK has long raised the issue of the changes to civil legal aid and the effect it would have on vulnerable children, in particular child victims of trafficking, who could find themselves unable to challenge a decision by the State to deny them support which they are entitled to and need to stay safe or a decision about their age and subsequent support provision.

The proposals have been condemned by many children’s NGOs – 32 of which had signed up to a briefing by the Public Law Project who brought the test case with the solicitors firm Bindmans LLP.

Last week the House of Commons approved use of the ‘residence test’, which would withhold legal aid from a range of groups, including women fleeing domestic violence, the homeless, lawful migrants, some child victims of trafficking and British nationals born and living abroad.

The joint briefing from 32 leading charities aims to convince the House of Lords to reject the test using a ‘fatal motion’ when it meets on 21 July.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking) at ECPAT UK, said: “Depriving children access to representation and justice, particularly those who are hugely vulnerable such as victims of exploitation and trafficking, is at odds with internationally accepted child rights legislation.

“Introducing a residence test for children will result in an unfair inequality of arms between the State and its young subjects who already have vulnerabilities that create barriers to their ability to access justice and have their voices and wishes heard.”

How you can help

First, it is important to raise public awareness of the test, its likely effects and the significance of the judgment ahead of the debate in case the regulations are not withdrawn. Secondly, it is vital to make peers aware that on 21 July they will be asked to approve an unlawful instrument and that they should resist doing so by voting for a fatal motion.

More information

Read the full judgment

The Public Law Project’s briefing is supported by ECPAT UK and also Refuge, Liberty, Justice, Just For Kids Law,  Redress, Corum Children’s Legal Centre, Children’s Rights Alliance For England, Child Poverty Action Group, Reprieve, Prisoners Advice Service, Redress, Shelter, The AIRE Centre, Housing Law Practitioners’ Association, Legal Action Group, The Howard League For Penal Reform, Disability Law Service, Just Rights, Southall Black Sisters, Immigration Law Practitioners Association, INQUEST, Helen Bamber Foundation, Mind, Asylum Support Appeals Project, Law Centres Federation, Medical Justice, Disability Law Service, Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group, Refugee Council and Rights Watch UK.