June 24th, 2011 § 35 CommentsBackgroundLEGAL AID BILL
ADVICE AND REPRESENTATION TO GYPSIES AND TRAVELLERS
The Legal Aid Bill1 was published on the 21st June 2011.
If brought into force as it stands now this Bill will have disastrous effects on the provision of advice and representation to Gypsies and Travellers on accommodation issues (to say nothing of the disastrous effects on many other areas of the law such as welfare rights, debt and education to name but a few).
Clause 8 of the Bill states that civil legal services will only be available in those areas detailed in Schedule 1 Part 1 of the Bill.
Clause 26 provides that the Lord Chancellor may provide services by means of telephone advice. On the same date as the publication of the Bill the response to the consultation on Legal Aid has been published2. There had been a proposal that telephone advice should be the “mandatory single gateway” to Legal Aid assistance (which would mean that only those providers who had telephone advice contracts would be able to deal with that initial stage). At para 146 of the consultation response the Government has stated that,initially, they will confine this proposal to four areas of law: debt; special educational needs; discrimination cases; and community care. At paragraph 153 they confirm that the Community Legal Advice Helpline will continue in the following areas: debt; special educational needs; discrimination; community care; family; housing.3
Schedule 1 Part 1 of the Bill contains those services which remain in the scope of Legal Aid (by this is meant all forms of advice, assistance and representation). At paragraph 17(1) “Judicial Review” is kept within scope. However paragraph 17(2) makes 17(1) subject to the exclusions in Schedule 1 Part 2. Part 2 paragraph 5 excludes ‘trespass to land’.
At paragraph 27 onwards “loss of home” is kept within scope but the following should be noted:-
(8) In this paragraph “home”, in relation to an individual, means the house, caravan, houseboat or other vehicle or structure that is the individual’s only or main residence, subject to sub-paragraph (9);
(9) References in this paragraph to an individual’s home do not include a vehicle or structure occupied by the individual if there are no grounds on which it can be argued –
(a) that the individual is occupying the vehicle or structure otherwise than as a trespasser, and that the individual’s occupation of the vehicle or structure began otherwise than as a trespasser
(10) In sub-paragraphs (8) and (9), the references to a caravan, houseboat or other vehicle include the land on which it is located or to which it is moored.
Excluded services are listed at Schedule 1 Part 2. Gypsy and Traveller planning work (in other words High Court planning appeals, planning injunction actions, challenges to Stop Notices and direct action etc) are not mentioned but (subject to what I say later) must be taken to be excluded by not being included in Schedule 1 Part 1.
In its consultation response the Government accepts that the majority of the over 5,000 responses they received were against the reforms. Nevertheless they are willing to fly in the face of those responses. For example at paragraph 41 of the consultation response they state:-
Over 90% of Respondents to the consultation disagreed with the proposals to remove from the scope of Legal Aid those cases and proceedings set out in the consultation.
At paragraph 234 of the consultation response the Government conclude that they will proceed with a 10% reduction to all fees paid under the Civil and Family Legal Aid Schemes. At Annex B paragraph 74, the Government relate the key issues raised in the consultation on Housing cases (which incorporates Gypsy and Traveller accommodation cases). They state that one of the key points raised by Respondents was:-
Funding should be provided for planning appeals and eviction cases involving Gypsies and Travellers because this group was one of the most vulnerable in society.
However, in their response to the consultation from paragraph 75, they fail to actually respond to that point.Cathay Birch of Gypsy Message Board has set up a petition to the Government.NO MAD LAWSWe the undersigned call upon the Government to ensure that Legal Aid in the Legal Aid Bill 2011 is available for Gypsies and Travellers to defend evictions from unauthorised encampments and to be advised and represented in High Court planning matters. It is due to the failures of successive central and local Governments to ensure adequate site provision that some 25% of the Gypsy and Traveller population who live in caravans are on unauthorised encampments and unauthorised developments. This is through no fault of their own. Gypsies and Travellers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the United Kingdom and the Government must ensure that they have access to legal advice and assistance just as any other group does.PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION.
§ 35 Responses to NO MAD LAWS – PETITION