Legal Aid Reforms

The North East Strategic Migration Partnership are meeting in Newcastle today in order to discuss the Government’s proposals for cutting the legal aid budget in relation to immigration matters.

At present legal aid is available for all asylum and immigration matters when the client is unable to afford to pay for legal advice. The Government are planning to cut access to legal aid for all immigration matters which are not asylum related, obviously leaving a large amount of individuals with no access to free legal advice.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is currently being passed through Parliament and it aims to reduce the legal aid bill by £350 million. The Government have received 5000 responses to the proposals to date, the vast majority of which have strongly opposed the suggested reforms.

If the bill is passed it will see an end to legal aid in relation to the following:

–         Family Reunion Applications

–         Deportation cases

–         Applications made under Article 8 ECHR

–         Visa applications

–         Trafficking and domestic violence cases

I strongly believe that cutting legal aid in relation to immigration matters will leave a huge number of individuals vulnerable, and confused as to how to resolve their immigration status. Most worryingly people who are granted refugee status (ie the Government accept that they will face persecution in their home country) will be unable to access legal aid to bring their family to the UK under the Family Reunion rules. This could have a detrimental and heart breaking effect on individuals who have fled to the UK to escape torture, repression and persecution. They need their family to assist them in integrating into life in the UK, and to cope with the ordeals of their past, but to remove legal aid will only place a barrier between these individuals and their families.

I also believe that removal of legal aid to immigration cases will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of individuals in the UK with unresolved immigration status. If they can’t afford to obtain legal advice then they are less likely to make themselves known to the authorities. It will cause more people to continue living in the UK illegally without ever trying to resolve their status.

I believe that it is not in the interests of justice to remove legal aid from immigration matters. These matters are life changing for the individuals involved, and they should not be prevented from accessing justice simply because they cannot afford it. Britain is a country which is known to protect individuals, and defend their rights, and removing legal aid for immigration matters completely goes against this. Immigration law in the UK is complex and confusing, and access to legal advice is necessary. I therefore do not support the Government’s proposed changes in relation to legal aid reform to immigration matters.

What do you think about the Government’s proposals?