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Homelessness decision appeals not covered by public law legal aid

Appeals against homelessness decisions are not covered by the public law category of legal aid following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), a High Court judge has ruled.

The 2012 Act changed the previous position where civil legal was generally available for all civil claims unless expressly excluded.

When it came into force in April last year, the Act meant civil legal aid was only given for matters in respect of which were expressly stated in the legislation to be covered by legal aid.

In order for legal aid in the public law category to be granted for appeals against homelessness decisions, it would be necessary to show that the court dealing with such matters (the county court) was in the words of paragraph 19(10) of Part 1, Schedule 1 of the 2012 Act “required by an enactment to make a decision applying the principles that are applied by the Court on an application for judicial review”.

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In Bhatia Best LTD v Lord Chancellor [2014] EWHC 746 the claimant law firm brought appeals under s. 204 of the Housing Act 1996. It continued to apply for funding after 1 April 2013.

But the Legal Aid Agency refused those applications, arguing that s. 204 appeals did not fall under the new public law category introduced as a result of LASPO.

Bhatia Best argued before Mr Justice Silber that because the county court applied principles (akin to judicial review exercisable in a county court), legal aid should be granted.

However, the High Court judge concluded that it was not determinative or relevant what principles the county court applied but whether in the words of paragraph 19 Part 1, Schedule 1, of LASPO it was “required by an enactment to make a decision applying the principles that are applied by the High Court on an application for judicial review”.

This meant that there had to be a clear requirement in the statute (the Housing Act) that the court should have a specific requirement in statute to apply those principles of legal aid.

Rejecting Bhatia Best’s claim, Silber J concluded that “in s. 204 appeals, the county court is not in the words of paragraph 19(10) of Part 1, Schedule 1, to LASPO ‘required by an enactment to make a decision applying the principles that are applied by the Court on an application for judicial review’.”

Accordingly, those who have homeless appeals are not entitled to legal aid in the public law category.

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