Dramatic decline in access to legal help for immigration detainees, reports charity

The number of immigration detainees with no access to legal representation while in detention has tripled in the past few months, a new survey published by the immigration detention charity BID has indicated.

Of the 101 detainees interviewed by the charity as many as one in three had never had a legal representative while in detention, compared to one in 10 in the spring of 2017. Almost half of the detainees surveyed mentioned money as the reason they were unable to access legal representation and almost two-thirds were forced to work on their own immigration case with no assistance.

The numbers are even more alarming for immigration detainees held in prison. Less than 10% of those detained in prison under immigration powers had received independent legal advice on their immigration issues while a prisoner.

Lack of legal representation in detention not only means that detainees are at risk of being removed to dangerous countries without the possibility to argue their case, but they are also deprived of their liberty, often indefinitely. They are separated from their family, sometimes unlawfully, and do not know how to apply for bail or challenge their detention.

Commenting on the findings, Celia Clarke, BID’s Director, said that the numbers have been the worse the charity has seen in 7 years of interviewing detainees.  ‘It is disgraceful that nearly a third of our sample had never had legal representation while in immigration detention,’ she said. ‘Everyone held in detention should be able to access legal advice and representation, particularly as people’s liberty and family life is at stake. A system which requires people to navigate their way through complex immigration law without legal assistance is unfair and cruel.’

On top of poor access to services, the survey highlights the difficulties of finding a lawyer with capacity to take on new cases on legal aid. ‘I have seen three solicitors,’ said one of the detainees interviewed. ‘They tell me what I am doing is correct and to keep trying to get myself a solicitor. The last one said that I need to wait two weeks and then he might have space for my case. I am still waiting.’

As many as 30,000 people entered immigration detention last year but less than one in four detainees were offered free representation on Legal Aid after an initial advice appointment.

Since the implementation of the legal aid cuts under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act in 2012, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of people who are able to access free legal representation whilst in detention and whose case can be funded under the legal aid scheme. The cuts have denied proper access to justice to thousands of detainees every year, something that BID deems ‘simply unacceptable’ when it comes to depriving people of their liberty.

This article first appeared on the Justice Gap on December 6, 2017

Caterina Franchi

About Caterina Franchi

Caterina is a solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line

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