Calls for immigration legal aid to be restored are growing, amid concerns about the quality of privately funded advice provided by some solicitor firms.
Last week High Court judge Mr Justice Green handed down a judgment in which he condemned what he called a ‘substantial cohort’ of immigration lawyers who use litigation as a tactic to delay and deter removal proceedings. He referred three firms to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Green said most practitioners in immigration and asylum do not have legal aid franchises. ‘The clients are privately funded, and they are frequently vulnerable and desperate. We sought information as to fees demanded by the solicitors in the cases before us. The sums vary; but they invariably run into multiples of thousands of pounds. To raise funds to pay for legal assistance clients must often seek support from family and friends. The solicitors will not generally act unless they are placed in funds beforehand.’
The Law Society has warned that people of the so-called ‘Windrush generation’ may be denied justice because of legal aid cuts. Almost all non-asylum immigration cases were taken out of scope by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Official figures show there were 22,496 newly initiated immigration non-asylum legal aid cases in 2012/13. In 2016/17, there were three.
Chancery Lane urged the ministry to restore and protect access to justice for everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said that ‘if the government now wants to show it is serious about ending this “hostile environment” then one simple step would be to immediately return legal aid for all immigration law advice’.
Meanwhile, Leigh Day is preparing a potential group action against the government on behalf of the ‘Windrush generation’ over the effects of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. As the Gazette went to press, the firm was awaiting details of a proposed government compensation scheme.
Jamie Beagent, a partner in the firm’s human rights department, said the compensation scheme would need to ‘fully and fairly’ compensate every individual for the particular harm and loss they have suffered, including the loss of dignity.
He said: ‘While we welcome the news that the government intends to set up a compensation scheme for these British citizens, we know very little more. We are also sceptical that such a scheme will adequately recompense our clients for what they have been through and what they have lost. It seems to be a failed crisis-management ploy.’