Friday Law Report: Revocation of legal aid certificate

16 April 1999 Regina v Legal Aid Area Committee, ex parte Parsons Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Beldam, Lord Justice Aldous and Lord Justice Mantell) 24 March 1999
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The Independent Culture
REVOCATION OR discharge of a legal aid certificate under regulation 78 of the Civil Legal Aid (General) Regulations 1989 was not a penalty imposed on the particular applicant but was designed to underline the duty of those who applied for legal aid to make full disclosure.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant's appeal against the dismissal of his application for judicial review of the decision of the Legal Aid Board to revoke his legal aid certificate.

The applicant wished to commence proceedings against his former employer, and applied for legal aid. The application form contained the question: "Do you or your partner have any savings?" The applicant ticked the box marked "No". The applicant also answered "No" to the question: "Do you or your partner have any life insurance or endowment policies?"

He was granted legal aid and commenced proceedings, in the course of which the employer made representations to the Legal Aid Board. As a result of those representations the board asked the appellant to produce copies of his bank statements.

They showed that when he had completed the application form he had had pounds 3,708.26 in his joint current bank account. It also came to light that he had a pension policy, which contained an element of life cover, and which was cashed in less than a month after he had completed the application form, providing a lump sum of pounds 1,792.71 and monthly payments of pounds 45.66.

The board considered that the applicant had not answered the questions in his application form truthfully, and issued a notice requiring him to show cause why the legal aid certificate should not be discharged or revoked. The applicant's explanation to the board was that he did not consider that the money in his bank account was "savings", nor did he consider that the policy was an insurance or endowment policy.

The board revoked the applicant's legal aid certificate pursuant to reg 78 of the Civil Legal Aid (General) Regulations 1989 on the ground that he had: ". . . made an untrue statement as to his/her financial resources or had failed to disclose a material fact concerning them."

John Meredith-Hardy (Blight Broad & Skinnard, Callington) for the applicant; Beverley Lang (Legal Department, Legal Aid Board) for the Area Committee.

Lord Justice Beldam said that the principal ground of appeal was that the disproportionate penal sanction of revocation should not have been imposed when the alternative of discharge was available.

The decision of the Area Committee was essentially within its proper sphere, and the fact that the applicant regarded the consequences as disproportionate did not make the decision unreasonable.

To import the idea that the Legal Aid Board in revoking or discharging a legal aid certificate was imposing a penalty was to introduce a qualification into the 1989 Regulations which was liable to lead to a misunderstanding of the board's function.

The judge had been right to describe the relationship between an applicant for legal aid and the board as one requiring the utmost good faith on the part of the applicant. The board was being asked to underwrite the costs of litigation on behalf of the applicant, and was dependent upon his making full disclosure of all of his assets. The position of the board was comparable to that of an insurance company.

Moreover, the board was entitled to have regard not only to the applicant's position but also to the position of the other party to the proposed litigation. It was therefore inaccurate to suggest that action taken by the board, after a representation from the opposite party had led to a finding that the applicant had failed to make full disclosure, was punitive.

The board's action was not a penalty imposed on the particular applicant but was designed to underline the duty of those who applied for legal aid. If an applicant had failed to make full disclosure in a material respect, the course of revocation might well be more appropriate than discharge.