In what will be a fascinating hearing, a new case raises important questions relating to accessing legal aid for abuse of power claims against the police. In an already fraught economy, with a government hell bent on cutting welfare budgets and legal aid down to its last wick, this case, at its heart, is all about economics.
The facts of the case are as follows: Ms Sisangia wished to bring proceedings against the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis for false imprisonment and assault arising out of her arrest and detention in 2011. Her request was refused twice, and on the second occasion, on the ground that she had not shown the proposed action was within the scope of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“LASPO”) and in particular paragraph 21 of Schedule 1 to that Act.
Ms Sisangia’s claim to pursue legal aid was eventually allowed, but concerns about the wider implications of allowing people to claim for legal aid in this context were raised, and so an appeal was brought by Matthew Coats, the Director of Legal Aid Casework (who initially refused Ms Sisangia’s request to access legal aid).
This appeal has been allowed, though we do not yet know the date of the hearing. It will be interesting to see which points will be raised in relation to The Director’s concerns, but we feel this appeal is driven by concerns over whether permission to access legal aid for cases involving false imprisonment and the police may open a floodgate, which the government, and The Director of Legal Aid Casework, will be keen to avoid. This case is relevant to the family justice system because the police work closely with social workers and families involved in the court system and there are potentially instances where police conduct, particularly with vulnerable families, could be construed as abuses of power.
What do you think? Is this appeal motivated by money, or have we missed a finer point?
If you have a moment, the discussion in the judgment on the definition of abuse of power is worth a read, not least of all because there is no set definition that exists (interesting reasons for that apparent omission are offered in the text).
Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this case with us.