Asylum seekers at risk with legal aid cuts
Cuts to legal aid are putting asylum seekers at serious risk of harm, a group of top lawyers has argued.
In a letter to The Times newspaper today (Friday) signed by 428 barristers, the lack of funding was highlighted as the driving force behind the closure of advice services for immigrants.
Refugee and Migrant Justice and the Immigration Advisory Service shut their doors for good blaming cuts to legal aid and the barristers have called on the government to re-think the plans.
The letter said: ‘Legal aid deserts are forming in areas of the UK. The Immigration Advisory Service was the only immigration provider with a legal aid contract in Norfolk and Suffolk and one of only two in Cambridgeshire and also in Leeds.
‘An immigrant living in Ipswich must now travel some 45 miles to Cambridge to find the nearest legal aid solicitor qualified to assist her – a hurdle that may prove intractable for a destitute non-English speaker.’
According to the barristers the situation could get worse with proposals in the Legal Aid Bill to remove legal aid from non-asylum immigration cases.
A MOJ spokesperson said: ‘The current system encourages lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings, at tax payers’ expense, which do not always ensure the best result for those involved.
‘We need to make clear choices to ensure that legal aid will continue to be available in those cases that really require it, the protection of the most vulnerable in society, and the efficient performance of the justice system.
‘Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution - which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts.’
He added: ‘Immigrant Advisory Service is one provider in a wider market, and the Legal Services Commission is in the process of arranging the transfer of cases to alternative advice providers.’