The Legal Aid Board's (LAB) approach to funding public interest cases is potentially pitted with problems, claims the Public Law Project (PLP).
The Lord Chancellor's idea of funding public interest cases – those likely to produce benefits for a significant number of people or which raise important legal issues – from a separate fund was dropped from the Access to Justice Bill.
LAB claims public interest cases remain a priority and in its consultation paper the Funding Code exempts them from the strict cost/benefit ratio test it imposes on more general cases.
PLP acting director Karen Ashton says it is unclear how public interest cases should be funded. “There is a danger London regional offices will have to bear the brunt of the cost because many of the cases will start in the capital.
“These cases usually have national implications and should be seen on a national canvas, not just a regional one,” she says.
Ashton says the code's suggestion that charities should be made to partially fund some actions is “inappropriate”.
The code's author, Colin Stutt, says: “It would not be right to have a cash-limited fund. It might perversely mean less funding for public interest cases.”
Stutt says that, because public interest cases are often costly, they may be funded out of a cash-limited pot since funding for “very expensive cases” is centrally controlled.
A LCD spokesman says: “The Government is trying to treat public interest cases as an integral part of the Funding Code and there's no need for a separate fund.”