New research published today based on the testimony of 90 individuals held in detention centres in the UK gives rise to serious concerns about the quality of legal advice available.
The results lay bare the sorry state of legal advice in immigration detention. The stakes could not be higher – without access to quality immigration legal advice people are at the mercy of the Home Office and face long-term detention and removal from the UK. For many of our clients this means permanent separation from family in the UK, or being taken to a country that they have not seen in many years and may fear returning to.
The survey, collected Bail for Immigration Detainees, is the only data collected on the availability of legal advice and representation in immigration detention.
Some 59% of people currently have an immigration solicitor, 68% of whom are represented on a legal aid basis. These figures are lower than those prior to the 2013 legal aid cuts, which removed non-asylum immigration work from the scope of legal aid.
Interviewees were particularly critical of the legal advice surgeries in detention centres. Changes to the contractual arrangements governing the provision of legal advice in immigration detention brought about in September 2018 drastically increased the number of firms delivering advice surgeries (from a total of nine firms to 77) and this has caused a significant reduction in quality.
Of 53 people who gave a description of their surgery appointment with the duty solicitor in detention, 24 explicitly described the advice as bad, or not useful, or stated that no advice was given. There were only eight people who described the advice they received in a positive way.
Legal advice surgery appointments are meant to last half an hour. That is already a very small amount of time in which to read through somebody’s papers, assess the merits of their case, decide whether to take them on as a client or give advice, and ensure that the detainee has understood what they have been told. However we found that of 34 people who told us how long their surgery appointment lasted, 13 said this was less than 5 minutes; and 74% said that the appointment was 20 minutes or less. One interviewee told us that the appointment lasted two or three minutes, and the solicitor explained they could not help with the case nor apply for bail app.
In 11 cases the solicitor asked for money to take on the case. Often these were vast sums of money. One interviewee told us that the solicitor informed him that he has a strong case but would not do it for free and charged £3000. He was paid and did not do anything for the case.
For people held in prisons under immigration powers at the end of their sentence, the situation is even bleaker. 53 interviewees in the survey said that they had come to the removal centre from prison. Of those, only 8 people had received advice on their immigration case from an immigration solicitor – just 15%. When asked if they had received legal advice on their immigration case whilst in prison, 11 out of 53 people said yes. (Of the 11 people, one said the advice came from a criminal solicitor, one said it was from an immigration officer, and one said it was from a prison officer.) Only eight people said that the advice came from an immigration solicitor. This raises a serious concern that many people are facing deportation from the UK without being able to access the legal advice that would be necessary to appeal against that decision.
The crisis of legal advice in immigration detention cannot continue. The Home Office is widely recognised as having internalised a culture of disbelief and become a law unto itself. In this context, the need for quality legal advice is vital. There is an urgent need for the reinstatement of legal aid for all immigration cases and an end to the inhumane system of immigration detention.