Access to justice

Legal case: Liberty v Director of Legal Aid Casework

When Liberty client Sarah Ward was refused legal aid to bring a case against a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Poole, Liberty challenged the Legal Aid Agency’s decision.

The PSPO essentially criminalised rough sleeping and begging. Sarah lived in Poole, but was refused legal aid on the basis that the case wouldn’t produce a benefit for her.

This was the first court case to consider the meaning of “potential to produce a benefit” under paragraph 19(3) Part 1 of Schedule 1 Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

The court agreed with our argument that the meaning of the word “benefit” is a broad one. It isn’t necessary to show that the proposed case has the potential to produce a significant benefit. The court also agreed that it doesn’t matter whether others would benefit from the proposed challenge or even that the benefiting of others is a strong motivation in bringing the challenge.

However, there must be a sufficient direct, personal and material benefit to the applicant or a member of their family. And the court said that because Sarah hadn’t been threatened with homelessness before or since the start of her legal challenge against Poole, there would be no direct personal benefit to her.

The case against the Legal Aid Agency was dismissed – but the principles set are very helpful and have since assisted others (for instance in FF v Director of Legal Aid Casework [2020] EWHC 95 (Admin))

Liberty had also asked the court to consider whether someone could get legal aid for proceedings brought under section 66 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, but the court didn’t reach a decision on this point.


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