NewsLegal advice: an oasis needed in the desert
The sense of déjà vu has been strong this summer as another charity providing legal advice to asylum seekers and migrants has gone into administration. Many of you will recall last year’s sense of shock and foreboding when Refugee and Migrant Justice closed. Just over one year after that, on 8th July this year, Immigration Advisory Service went into administration. Part of the reason for the charity going into administration is the change to the way that legal advice is funded. Between these two charities several thousand asylum seekers and migrants were helped with legal advice each year.
There are further changes to legal aid proposed under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill published in June: these include the removal of immigration from legal aid apart from asylum claims, advice on asylum support claims and challenges to immigration detention. Refugee family reunion claims will also be excluded from legal aid.
I have been working with Jesuit Refugee Service for almost 11 years. A consistent theme throughout this time has been the difficulties faced by people seeking asylum in accessing good quality legal advice to help them with their asylum claims and with any appeals. That situation over the years has worsened appreciably as cuts in legal aid funding for asylum claims have been introduced, pushing advisers and solicitors out of business altogether, or forcing them to reduce the amount of legal aid work they undertake or even forcing them into exclusively private practice. In some parts of the country there already exists immigration and asylum legal advice deserts. The new proposals can only make things even worse.
Jesuit Refugee Service is an active member of the Churches Refugee Network, which responded to the recent consultation on legal aid. A copy of that detailed response is available from the JRS-UK office. Up to date information on the Bill is available from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association website.
Please contact your MP to let him/her know how important this issue is, especially while the Bill is going through Parliament.