Nearly half of immigration detainees do not have access to legal advice

Nearly half of immigration detainees do not have access to legal advice

Life in the justice gap: illustration from Proof magazine, issue 3. Simon Pemberton

Almost half of immigration detainees do not have access to a lawyer, according to the latest statistics from the legal charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID). Prior to the 2013 legal aid cuts under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), eight of 10 people in immigration removal centres had lawyers.

BID spoke to 76 detainees held in Immigration Removal Centres  and found that 49% of detainees do not currently have a legal representative, and of that number, just over half (54%) had a legal aid solicitor.

The LASPO cuts removed non-asylum immigration cases from the legal aid scheme although bail remains in scope. In 2012 BID reported that 79% of those held in immigration detention had a legal representative, and 75% of them were funded by legal aid. ‘Today, 53% of those currently without a solicitor cited money as the main reason they did not have one,’ the group said. ‘One in five of respondents had never had a solicitor while in immigration detention.’

BID points out that initial access to a legal aid lawyer is limited to a 30 minute appointment and the quality of advice was ‘highly variable’. ‘Only 13% of individuals who had attended one such appointment had actually received specific advice about their case,’ the group said. ‘For those with legal representation, 51% said their lawyer had not done a single bail application for them.’

‘Just when we think things can’t get worse for people in detention, our latest research confirms what we observe in our work. It is unimaginable that people who are deprived of their liberty for the administrative convenience of the government, should not have automatic legal representation to challenge that detention and secure their release,’ commented Celia Clarke, BID’s director. ‘Detention is hugely damaging for those subjected to it and to deny people access to justice is completely unacceptable.  These figures should shame us all.  The end of detention is long overdue.’

According to the group, the situation is worse for those held in prisons under immigration powers ‘as there is no system for the provision of immigration legal advice in prisons’. ‘Many of those held under immigration powers are long-term residents, including EEA nationals, who are issued with deportation orders despite having strong Article 8 claims,’ BID says. ‘Such individuals face multiple and compounding barriers to challenging their deportation as well as their ongoing detention. Of the 40 individuals that BID spoke to who had been transferred from a prison to an IRC, only seven had received advice on their case from an immigration legal practitioner.’