Freshfields advises Shelter on successful intervention in significant homelessness law decision
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP (‘Freshfields’) has acted for Shelter on its successful intervention in the case of Al Ahmed v London Borough of Tower Hamlets  EWCA Civ 51. The Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in the case on 30 January 2020, providing an authoritative ruling on the approach to be adopted by the court when assessing what constitutes a “good reason” for a delay in bringing an appeal under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996.
Mr Al Ahmed appealed a decision of Mr Justice Dove, which reversed the decision of HHJ Hellmann and found that trying to find legal aid representation was not a good reason for Mr Al Ahmed to issue his appeal 35 days late. The decision of Dove J found that the requirements of bringing a homelessness appeal were not ‘especially sophisticated or taxing’ and that a litigant in person could therefore have issued an appeal within the 21-day time limit. Shelter considered that seeking legal aid can, and often will, be a good reason for requiring an extension for bringing an appeal of an adverse review decision and therefore sought permission to intervene in the proceedings.
Placing significant reliance on Shelter’s submissions and the witness statement of Polly Neate, Shelter’s CEO, the Court of Appeal held that whether or not an applicant has a “good reason” for delay will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, and that the High Court was mistaken to have found that homelessness applicants are, as a general rule, able to draft a notice of appeal and adequate grounds of appeal without legal representation. The Court of Appeal’s judgment is hugely significant for homelessness applicants, and will assist such applicants in obtaining access to justice.
Shelter CEO, Polly Neate, said: “This is a very welcome judgment, providing significant guidance and recognising the difficulties faced by homeless applicants bringing an appeal without legal advice and representation. Importantly, the judgment also recognises the wider difficulties caused by cuts to legal aid and the subsequent shrinking of the housing advice sector.”
Freshfields dispute resolution partner, Patrick Swain, said: “This judgment is incredibly important for homeless applicants seeking to appeal an adverse review decision made by a local authority, with the support of legal advice. We are proud to have acted for long-term pro bono client Shelter on this case, along with the team from Garden Court Chambers, and are pleased with the impact of Shelter’s intervention on the court. Today’s result is testament to the work by all of the teams involved.”
The Freshfields team was led by partner Patrick Swain, with assistance from senior associate Daniel Hunt, associate Natalie Puddicombe, and trainees Sarah Holland and Amelia Coe. The barrister team consisted of Liz Davies and Connor Johnston, both of Garden Court Chambers. Shelter’s team comprised Polly Neate, Jo Underwood and Rose Arnall.
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