The Legal Services Commission, which handles legal aid, has been accused of "cynically changing the rules" by ignoring the decision of its own appeals panel that library campaigners pursuing judicial review claims should not face heavy community costs.
Campaigners in Somerset and the Isle of Wight had appeals about the proposed level of contribution heard by the LSC's panel on 23rd June. According to Dave Quigley of the Isle of Wight library campaign, the panel decided that £1,000–£2,000 would be an adequate contribution for the local community to make towards their action.
But Quigley said that although he had been told the finding of the appeal panel would be legally binding both on the IoW residents and on the LSC, the LSC had "totally disregarded" the findings and was still saying residents must pay £10,000, half the anticipated costs.
John Irven of campaign group Friends of Watchet Library, which is supporting the plaintiff in the Somerset judicial review claim, said law firm Public Interest Lawyers had informed him that the appeal panel had found in favour of the residents, instructing LSC to reduce its community charge. "LSC informed PIL on 5th July that they are ignoring the instruction of the appeal panel, and will be insisting on a full 50% community contribution that we had appealed against and won, which means we have to continue raising several thousand pounds more in pledges," Irven said.
He added: "We believe as campaigners (but laypeople on the law) that LSC are cynically trying to keep changing the rules just to avoid having to pay appropriate levels of legal aid funding, and that this has major implications if allowed to stand, not just for libraries, but all areas where individuals and campaigners are trying to challenge what are considered unlawful decisions."
An LSC spokesperson said: "It would be disrespectful to the applicants to comment on the details of this case while we await a response from their solicitors to our letter of July 5th." He added: "The LSC has an independent panel, which hears appeals on the funding decisions made by our case managers, and makes recommendations, primarily on the legal merits."
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