Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Residence Test for legal aid

The government’s controversial proposal to introduce a residence test for access to legal aid was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court on Monday 18 April.

The government had proposed in September 2013 to make legal aid subject to an additional test of one year's lawful residence in the UK.

That would mean that anyone with uncertain or no immigration status within the previous year, or anyone not living here in the last 12 months, would be ineligible for legal aid on that basis alone. 

Clearly this proposal would have enormous consequences for access to justice for victims of human trafficking, the vast majority of whom would not be able to pass this test. While the test, as drafted, did contain some exceptions for victims of human trafficking, these were unclear and patchy. 

Accordingly, the decision of the Supreme Court is very good news for victims.

The Supreme Court found that the residence test was ultra vires. This means that Parliament had not given the government the power to introduce the test; so its introduction would be unlawful. 

The Supreme Court expected to hear arguments over two days; however, the seven judges, led by their President Lord Neuberger, unanimously decided against the government at the end of the first day of submissions.

The Court indicated that it did not consider it necessary to go on to hear argument on whether the test was unjustifiably discriminatory and so in breach of common law and the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Supreme Court’s written reasons are now awaited.

Read more on the background to this decision.