JusticeWatch: Another LASPO U-turn

Another LASPO U-turn
Legal aid for vulnerable migrant children who are in the UK alone has been restored in what has been hailed as ‘a major U-turn by the Government’. Unaccompanied minors had been facing ‘a punishing combination of cuts to legal aid and skyrocketing Home Office application fees’ since the 2013 LASPO cuts, according to the Children’s Society.

After a five-year long legal challenge by the charity and other groups, the Government has agreed to reinstate legal aid for separated and unaccompanied children in non-asylum immigration cases. Since the cuts, children have only been able to secure funding through the much criticised ‘exceptional case funding’ safety net mechanism.

The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed called it ‘an important change in policy which will go a long way to protecting some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people in our communities’. ‘Legal aid is absolutely vital for ensuring that children can access justice. For children who are subject to immigration control and who are in this country on their own, it is an absolute life line. The government should be commended for this significant change for children and young people.’

‘Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice,’ the Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP confirmed in a written ministerial statement – as reported by the Law Society’s Gazette.

Exploiting the vulnerable
Meanwhile the Times reckoned that ‘incompetent and dishonest’ immigration lawyers were ‘exploiting vulnerable clients’ and undermining the reputation of the justice system. According to JUSTICE, the Immigration and Asylum Chamber ‘must systematically collect information about practitioners considered to provide poor- quality representation, as well as the outcome of cases and cases certified as totally without merit’.

‘During the course of our inquiry, we were troubled by examples we encountered of unsupervised and unqualified persons giving advice and assistance on immigration matters, representatives who had exploited vulnerable clients, and those who were incompetent and, in a few cases, dishonest,’ read a report from a working group by JUSTICE chaired by the former High Court judge and solicitor-general, Sir Ross Cranston.

The Gazette also reported that a Manchester law firm was hoping others would follow its lead ‘and pledge £12,500 for three years to safeguard the future’ of the family drug and alcohol court. As reported on LegalVoice, the pioneering substance-abuse problem-solving court scheme is at ‘grave risk for want of £250,000’.

Hall Brown, which specialises in family law, has emailed 49 private family law firms asking them to help save a national unit that supports FDAC.

The Conservative MP Tim Loughton, a former shadow minister for children, praised the firms’ ‘generous offers’ in a meeting in the House of Lords. He added: ‘I think if we can get a few more firms on board, we can go back to the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice and say “why not match the funding at the very least”. The legal profession is prepared to put its money where its mouth is.’

Lives on the line
Congrats to the human rights lawyer S Chelvan who has been honoured with an Attitude Pride Award for his work defending LGBT asylum seekers from being sent back to countries where they face violence, persecution, and even death.

‘Asylum is a last resort, and I was in a situation where I had no other option,’ Danila Stepin told Attitude. He left Russia for the UK when he was 17 and six years later was facing having to return. ‘What Chelvan does is heroic because he basically takes charge of make-or-break situations in a person’s life. Lives are on the line, so it’s quite a responsibility to take on those cases.’





About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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