Vulnerable victims of trafficking were increasingly unable to find legal advice, according to new research about the extent of market failure in the asylum and immigration legal aid sector. The Young Legal Aid Lawyers conducted a snapshot survey last week drawing on 34 responses from individuals working in at least 18 anti-slavery groups about the state of access to justice for victims of trafficking. Most respondents stated that it was either ‘impossible’, ‘extremely difficult’ or ‘difficult’ (71%) to find legal aid representation for victims of trafficking and 44% stated that victims of trafficking had left their service before they were able to find them an immigration representative.
Last June the Justice Gap reported on research by Dr Jo Wilding, a barrister based at Garden Court, which found market failure in the immigration and asylum sector ‘both in terms of geographical availability of services and the ability to ensure adequate quality’. ‘Urgent policy action is required if this is not to become a catastrophic market failure,’ she argued.
According to the new YLAL study, victims of trafficking were incurring debt ‘and returning to exploitation in order to pay for a private immigration representation due to legal aid providers being unavailable’. ‘Lack of access to asylum and immigration legal aid lawyers puts victims of trafficking at risk of exploitation from unregulated asylum and immigration providers,’ the group says.
YLAL argues that the report ;outlines a prima facie breach of the government’s duties to ensure access to legally aided asylum and immigration representation for victims of trafficking under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the EU Trafficking Directive’. The group is calling on the legal aid Minister, Alex Chalk MP, to immediately withdraw the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 which they argue ‘further restrict access to justice for victims of trafficking as they make complex asylum and immigration cases financially unviable’.