Belfast Telegraph

Woman ordered to leave Belfast home with disabled child wins legal challenge

Belfast High Court
Belfast High Court

By Alan Erwin

A woman ordered to vacate the home in Belfast where she lived with her disabled child has won a High Court challenge to being denied funding for a mediation process.

Rose Edmunds, who is originally from Kenya, issued proceedings against Northern Ireland's Legal Services Agency after being told the costs of having lawyers represent her at the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) would not be covered.

A judge ruled the decision to refuse legal aid for mediation with Christian housing organisation Habitat for Humanity NI was unlawful.

Mrs Edmunds' solicitor claimed the verdict could ease pressure on the public purse in civil litigation.

Gary Adair, a partner in Wilson Nesbitt, said: "The ability of a person on legal aid to mediate a case should see fewer cases end up in Court and ultimately will create a cost saving for the legal aid fund."

Mrs Edmunds and her son had been provided with accommodation at Tyndale Crescent in Belfast by Habitat for Humanity NI.

In April last year they were ordered to leave the property after the organisation secured a court declaration that the lease had been forfeited amid disputed claims of rental arrears and abandoning it for a period. 

Mrs Edmunds, 52, sought to appeal that outcome, with legal aid granted for her attempt to overturn the order.

But after she agreed to Habitat for Humanity's offer of mediation the Legal Services Agency informed her funding was not available for the process.

Ruling on her application for a judicial review of that decision, Mr Justice McCloskey highlighted ADR's increasing prominence in Northern Ireland's legal landscape.

"Once a newcomer, it is now an experienced member of the civil litigation club," he said.

The judge held that the Agency erred in law by failing to recognise its ability to authorise public funding for the alternative resolution process in proceedings other than family cases.

"The court sympathises with the Agency being a statutory public authority with finite funding and having difficult expenditure distribution decisions to make," he said.

"However, for the reasons given the decision  impugned in these proceedings is unsustainable in law."

Outside court Mr Adair added: "This judgment is welcomed by my client as it allows her to progress her case."

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