WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
April 19 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Government faces legal action over ‘collapse’ in immigration advice

Government faces legal action over ‘collapse’ in immigration advice

The government is facing legal action over its failure to provide publicly-funded legal advice to asylum seekers and those facing immigration problems and concerns that the sector has ‘collapsed’. In a pre-action letter to the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk KC, the Public Law Project has said that the availability of legal aid in immigration and asylum cases is so low that it amounts to people being denied access to justice and a violation of the Lord Chancellor’s duties.

This is supported by a new report issued jointly by the PLP and Haringey Migrant Support Centre, claiming that the advice sector ‘has collapsed’. ‘Immigration and asylum legal aid work is not sustained by legal aid fees,’ it states. Providers are forced to ‘rely on mixed funding; the limited provision that remains is heavily subsidised by providers and grant funders’. ‘Support organisation’s referrals are going unanswered, as provider capacity is saturated. The report shows a system which is largely kept going by a small number of dedicated actors who, in exchange for stagnant pay, regularly work long, additional, unremunerated hours. The system is unequipped to replace such individuals and organisations when they inevitably move on or cease operations.’

The report notes that two thirds 66% of the UK public – 39 million people – do not have access to immigration or asylum legal aid in their local authority area.

This lack of availability is the result of a combination of complicated bureaucracy and critically low funding, with many providers are forced to subsidise the work themselves. As a result, 60% of providers have co-signed a letter that immigration legal aid is ‘unworkable‘ at current rates

The Bibby Stockholm barge, used for asylum seekers, provides a touchstone for the scale of this problem – Portland, in Dorset, where the barge is moored, has no immigration legal aid provision whatsoever. The South West region as a whole has the resources to provide for fewer than 300 immigration cases per year. The Bibby Stockholm alone is to house 500 asylum seekers.

Daniel Rourke, lead lawyer for the PLP, said: ‘This type of legal aid helps people escaping trauma, such as persecution, trafficking, and domestic abuse… Without it, the Home Office and Tribunal risk making decisions that condemn people to persecution abroad, or destitution in the UK due to ‘hostile environment’ measures… We are compelled to bring our research to the Lord Chancellor’s attention and demand that he takes urgent action. We will reluctantly prepare legal proceedings if he continues to breach his statutory and constitutional duties.’

Immigration is not the only area of underfunded legal aid. Approximately 12.5 million people are left without access to housing legal aid, with 12 areas receiving no compliant bids for the last round of funding. Criminal barristers went on strike last year over legal aid funding that left them earning less than minimum wage.