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Staffordshire Uni law grad representing himself persuades High Court to hear potentially historic benefits case — if he can raise the money

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Michael Connor crowdfunding to keep anti-austerity case alive

A recent law graduate with no solicitor or barrister has persuaded the High Court to hear a potentially historic challenge to a key bit of welfare benefits law.

Michael Connor, who finished his Legal Practice Course (LPC) just last year, has been granted permission for a judicial review of a rule that stops people appealing when denied benefits unless they’ve asked for an internal review.

Staffordshire Uni grad Connor is crowdfunding to take the case to a full hearing and has appealed for pro bono support, as he doesn’t have the cash to fund the expensive litigation himself.

The case is about the so-called “mandatory consideration rule”. It affects people denied benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Universal Credit.

Under regulation 3ZA of the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations, created in 2013, people refused benefits only have a right to appeal to an independent tribunal if they have asked the Department for Work and Pensions to reconsider its decision.

William Ford of Osbornes Law, who won the social welfare category of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards this year, told Legal Cheek:

“In an era where legal aid is not available for the vast majority of welfare benefit cases, the mandatory reconsideration rule operates as a further procedural barrier to claimants challenging benefit decisions”.

As Connor puts it, “if a person has been wrongly denied benefits they have to wait until the benefit office have done a lengthy, pointless review”. He argues that this is contrary to human rights law.

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A High Court judge has now agreed that “although it is difficult to challenge legislation, there is some force in the submission that a rule which precludes access to statutory rights of appeal until after determination of a mandatory reconsideration, rather than when it should have been determined, is a disproportionate barrier to access to a court”.

A July 2019 report by the Child Poverty Action Group said that mandatory reconsideration requests can take up to six months to be processed. While the process is supposed to take 40 days, the report found that “many claimants wait significantly longer than this to receive a mandatory reconsideration notice, which can cause significant financial hardship as well as stress and worry”.

Ford said that “there is also evidence of the DWP refusing to accept late requests for mandatory reconsiderations so that appeals to the Tribunal do not proceed”.

Connor only completed his undergrad law degree in 2017, but has many years of experience as a welfare advisor. He put them to good use in getting permission for the case to proceed, despite being a litigant in person with no qualified lawyer in his corner.

He has appealed for a barrister willing to pitch in with the case, as well as seeking £3,000 via Crowdfunder.

Connor says that “As the film I, Daniel Blake, highlighted many people die before their appeal is eventually heard”, adding that “if my legal action is successful this unfair law will be quashed”.

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26 Comments

KS

“there is also evidence of the DWP refusing to accept late requests for mandatory reconsiderations so that appeals to the Tribunal do not proceed”.

This used to be true, but now if they refuse to accept late requests you can apply to the tribunal as long as you are within 13 months of the original decision and can show good reason as to why your late appeal should be heard.

I have yet to have the tribunal service refuse a late appeal tbh plus the rate of winning tribunals is so high that removing the requirement to ask for mandatory reconsideration makes sense.

After that, they need to fix the 6-9 month wait for a tribunal hearing.

(8)(0)

Wondering

Why should the costs of judicial process by expended by taxpayers rather than asking to engage the statutory internal review procedures? If the review process takes to long the proper course is to challenge the propriety of the time of the review rather than ripping up the clear public policy behind the statute.

(4)(7)

Anonymous

From a purely legal perspective, you’re correct. But if the internal review procedure is chronically broken, slow and ineffective, that would merely help resolve one individual’s predicament.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

No it would not, if the delay is seen as contrary to administrative law expectations, the result would be that the authorities would need to comply with their obligations generally going forward. JRs are very often about the wider issues not the specific one before the court.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Is there a breakdown of the £3,000?

(2)(1)

Michael Connor

Yes the fee to proceed has to be paid this week. That is £770. As you can see I am still far short of that. I am anticipating having to pay further fees for applications for court directions or a possible appeal or for representation.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Fair enough. I’d set the target to £770 in the meantime then as that might be more achievable, then try to raise more as and when needed.

(0)(0)

Anon

As a top rate taxpayer I hope this fails.

(43)(25)

Joe Guile

Contemplated making a donation until I saw that Mr Connor considers himself both a constitutional law and brexit expert.

(12)(2)

Michael Connor

I am not in favour of Brexit. I did do my masters dissertation on “Euro-revision is the rule of law put at risk by Brexit?” This considered weighty constitutional law matters . It came to the conclusion that Brexit (if it happens) will hand over vast Henry VIII powers to ministers and puts the rule of law at risk. My case is indeed one where a minister has used their power to diminish the rule of law.

(7)(9)

Ligma Expert

You’re just saying anti-Tory buzzwords at this point to gain sympathy and elicit financial contributions. You certainly know nothing of democracy, you’re abusing and taking advantage of popular elitist consensus to gain career advantages.

(14)(17)

Legaltech Enthusiast

You might like to try https://www.crowdjustice.com/

(1)(0)

Anon

We all know there is a lot of injustice and conversely there is the occasional abuse of the benefits system often highlighted by the popular press. Our Judicial system is one of the best in the world of which we should be very proud. They give very careful consideration to all judgements and our laws evolve by progressive refinement in a world of changing circumstances and beliefs. If you believe the disadvantaged, including children, should go hungry or be made homeless because the system is failing then, then I suggest you move to somewhere where you live under a dictatorship and democracy has no place. Hopefully that dictatorship will strip you of all you wealth and should you then become homeless or fall ill, you may appreciate the strength of our judicial system and despite many imperfections, it is of benefit to us all. As far as I can see it it only the excessively wealthy who wish to crush the judiciary and democracy.

(5)(4)

Anonymous

The judicial system exists to protect *legal* justice. Not social justice. It should be utterly disinterested in such matters, which are of course relative concepts whose currency should be determined solely by public opinion (mediated through elections).

(6)(2)

Anonymous

The UK justice system actually compares very poorly internationally and is one of the worst in Western Europe, especially in regards to the costs of using the system (fees to issue a claim are among the highest in the world) and the quality of judges in the lower courts.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Yes, brothers, sisters, we should aspire to the Venezuelan system. Rise up!

(0)(1)

Anonymous

You think Venezuela is in Western Europe do you?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

How much does it cost to issue proceedings in Venezuela?

(0)(0)

Not Amused

I think the argument that the Tribunal system is itself a breach of article 6 is a solid one.

Tribunals do not act like a court of first instance. They limit themselves, or are limited, to only addressing matters first determined by DWP. But DWP is definitely not a court. It is a call centre of poorly trained staff.

How can a tribunal which refuses to be a court of first instance, and instead only deals as a pretend appellate court ever satisfy our article 6 rights?

Let alone that excessive delay should of itself be a breach of art. 6 …

The government has created an extremely expensive and complicated system of fake courts, when what people need and are entitled to is … er … courts.

(14)(1)

I Like Car Crash TV

Do expand, with some details and authority. This should be fun to watch.

(1)(0)

Jarvis

Surely you just make parallel appeals under the rules? And no, I cannot be bothered to read the regulations – surely it would have been appropriate for the author to present these to foster some proper debate.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

The Free Representation Unit are a tribunal charity that specialise in social security law.

Bear in mind that for all the marketing, none of their staff are qualified barristers or solicitors. As with most of the complicated cases that come their way, they will know public law QCs and qualified barristers that they could pass this on to.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Have you checked whether you can get the £770 fee waived, for example if you are in receipt of benefit now?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Also, a litigation funder might be able to help.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Please would you answer the point about getting a waiver of the fee. It was asked for a reason.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What was the reason out of interest?

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

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