I write in connection with your interview with shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan. It is a shame that he failed to mention the impact of the impending legal aid cuts on our migrant communities and foreign nationals within the UK prison system.
I am a legal aid solicitor. I have worked in the sector since 1992 as an immigration lawyer. I have witnessed many changes to both the law and funding over this time, and will be one of many struggling to ensure that those we represent have their voices heard when immigration funding goes out of scope in April 2013.
Mr Khan talks about his commitment to the Human Rights Act. He also comments on the high percentage of those in prison who suffer from mental health problems and women who are separated from their children. In the past two months, I have spoken to numerous women who are foreign national prisoners. They are separated from their children and face the battle of trying to obtain not only advice on their immigration status, but also advice for their family matters.
I have also spoken to many young offenders who are foreign nationals and have spent most of their lives in the UK. Some have learning disabilities, with periods in and out of the care system, with no family support. They want to be able to explain why they will not reoffend and what they have done to rehabilitate while in prison. How will they argue their corner from April 2013?
By the time these clients receive decisions to deport, there will be no legal aid available to them so they can challenge their deportation, unless there is an asylum element to their appeal grounds. Many appeals against deportation focus solely on article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Khan should also be aware that very large numbers of people will remain separated from their loved ones as a result of the recent changes to the rules on family migration. This will include many of those in his own constituency, who will tell him that their partners have been refused visas or leave to remain.
I am now meeting and talking to the very people who will never be able to earn the sort of money which this government seems to think they can in order for them to be with their family members from abroad. It is heartbreaking to listen to the stories of people on low incomes and those with young children who cannot return to work. Again, from April 2013 there will be no legal aid for those who want to appeal any such refusals.
Added to this, of course, is the government’s attack on the application of article 8 and its lack of respect for all the groundbreaking jurisprudence which has come from our domestic courts and Strasbourg.
Mr Khan fails to mention these issues, which directly impact upon some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is particularly disappointing as he was a practising lawyer himself. While he laments the closure of his local Citizens Advice bureau and says he would become a lawyer again, he must address the impact of the funding cuts on immigrant communities and not fall prey to what many in his party believe, which is that they have not been tough enough on immigration.
It is an absolute tragedy that a fundamental pillar of our welfare state is being so ruthlessly demolished.
Smita Bajaria, London W5