Who? Laura Smith, co-head of legal, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, London.

Laura Smith

Why is she in the news? Secured bail for asylum seekers who faced removal to Rwanda despite the prime minister saying no flights would take place before the general election. JCWI will now lodge claims for damages. The council also has pending litigation challenging the delay caused by the scheme and the refusal by the Home Office to allow time to gather evidence to show why Rwanda is not a safe country.

Thoughts on the case: ‘In asylum work you often have the feeling that the people you advise are pawns in wider political machinations, while they are dealing with the biggest crisis of their lives. That sense has been particularly acute when advising those detained for removal to Rwanda on the day of local elections, and granted bail when the general election was called. Their period in detention was short but the harm caused is likely to be long-lasting. One client was hospitalised due to a post-traumatic breakdown caused by an aggressive dawn raid, [when they were] put in a van and driven to detention. There are many understandable reasons why people travel from France to the UK, often due to having shared community and language links resulting from the British empire. Having some understanding and support while going through the asylum system could be life-saving, because as an asylum seeker you’re putting your future safety in the hands of an unknown state. It’s been a sad situation to advise my clients of the Rwanda policy and its purported justification, when many arrive with an optimistic faith in the UK’s human rights protections. But they did all have strong cases to resist removal to Rwanda, even before the political developments.’

Dealing with media: ‘Everyone has an opinion on asylum but if people could see the reality, any suspicion would be lost in a sense of compassion for a fellow human being. At JCWI we see legal and communications work as part of the same project. Through legal representation we seek to resurrect someone’s credibility before a judge and I hope that sharing the reality through the media can play some part in debunking myths.’

Career high: ‘I enjoy resurrecting cases that have been through the asylum system multiple times, and each time failed by it. It’s such a joy and relief when you start to understand what has gone wrong and you find a strategy that you know can succeed.’

Career low: ‘Legal aid is so hard to make financially viable while avoiding burnout. The worst time was fighting for the continued existence of our legal department while dealing with the usual demands of litigation.’C