Lack of knowledge of legal aid causes postponement of committal hearing
Discovery Land Company LLC and others v Jirehouse and others
A recent case in the High Court has shown that non-compliance with the rules regarding a Respondent’s right to know about legal aid could potentially lead to anti-social behaviour committal hearings being adjourned.
On 7 June 2019 the case of Discovery Land Company LLC and others v Jirehouse and others  EWHC 1633 (Ch) was heard in the High Court. The committal application in this case related to a breach of undertakings to the court and a breach of disclosure provisions in a freezing order.
The details of the committal application are not particularly relevant. What is relevant is that, at the start of the hearing for the application, the judge made the Respondent aware of the availability of criminal legal aid and informed the Respondent how to contact the legal aid agency. The Respondent had been unaware of this prior to the start of this hearing.
There is a requirement to ensure that a Respondent is made aware of this information which is in the Civil Procedural Rules Practice Direction 81.15.6(2). As the Respondent had not been aware of this up until the day of the hearing, the judge felt it necessary to deliver judgment on this point. Whilst the judge understood the consequences and impact on the applicant of a delay in the hearing, the judge delivered judgment in order to provide guidance and remind any future applicants that they could face adjournments if they do not ensure compliance with PD 81.15.6(2).
Whilst this case is vitally important when it comes to committal hearings in general, it is extremely relevant in relation to committals hearings for anti-social behaviour. All applicants for committal hearings must ensure that respondents are made aware that criminal legal aid is available and they are aware of the process of contacting the Legal Aid Agency.
Whilst the availability of legal aid may not be of direct importance from an applicant’s point of view, this case shows that the respondent’s lack of knowledge in this area can significantly impact on an applicant directly. The last thing a client would want in this position would be for the committal to be adjourned, resulting in a significant waste of costs and, potentially, for the Respondent to continue carrying out anti-social behaviour.
Weightmans would recommend that when, an application for committal is personally served on the Respondent, that the Respondent is also advised in writing about the availability of criminal legal aid in the hope that this will mean that the first hearing is not adjourned with the subsequent wasted costs and delay.