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Court Strikes Down Legal Aid 'Residence Test'

The High Court has struck down controversial plans to bar non-UK residents from receiving legal aid, branding the proposals a discriminatory cost-cutting measure based on little more than prejudice against foreigners.

The Lord Chancellor had proposed to introduce, by way of statutory instrument, an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The amendment would have imposed a 'residence test', restricting access to legal aid to those who have 'a strong connection to the UK'.

Upholding a challenge to the proposal brought by a leading legal charity, the Court noted that the strength of a person's connection to the UK had nothing to do with their need for legal assistance in upholding their rights, particularly against public authorities. The mere saving of cost could not justify discrimination, and what was at stake was the fundamental principle that the law protects all those who fall under its jurisdiction, regardless of their country of origin.

Lawyers representing the Secretary of State for Justice argued that the residence test was justified and would serve to boost public confidence in the legal system. However, the Court found that, in the circumstances, the invocation of public confidence amounted to little more than 'reliance on public prejudice'.

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