Court rules refugees may receive legal aid for family reunification

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18 Jun 2014

A landmark court judgment has ruled that refugees seeking family reunification are entitled to legal aid to help them pursue their claims.

Legal aid is vital for refugees pursuing family reunification as the cases are often wrongly refused and later overturned on appeal.

Following swingeing cuts to legal aid provision in 2012, the Government promised that in cases where lack of access to legal aid would put fundamental rights at risk, it would make additional funds available; known as Exceptional Case Funding (ECF).

According Ministry of Justice statistics, 98% of applications for ECF for immigration are denied.

The judgment came as part of a wider ruling about access to ECF which included a case questioning whether or not refugees applying to be reunited with their families are entitled to ECF. The Judge ruled that not only should refugees seeking family reunion be entitled to ECF, but they should be granted legal aid in order to help them pursue their claims.

The court found that provision for refugees to apply for legal aid was outlined in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which states that it will be provided for matters arising from the Refugee Convention.

The Refugee Convention enshrines the right to family reunification for refugees, and therefore, the court ruled that refugees must be provided with legal aid in order to help them reunite with their loved ones.

Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “We hope the Home Office will take the decision of the court on board and won’t appeal this ruling.

"It’s a fundamental human right to be able to live safely with your family and the Government must ensure that refugees are able to do so. That means making sure refugees as well as government have the help of experts in law to ensure that the right decisions are made. ”