Legal aid bill: the truth behind the headlines - Refugee Council
July 1, 2011

Legal aid bill: the truth behind the headlines

By Judith, Advocacy team

Well it’s actually the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, already shortened to LASPO, but the bit we’re concerned with is the slashing of the legal aid budget through taking away entitlement to free legal advice and representation for many issues. Although asylum seekers will still be funded to apply for asylum, and appeal decisions in some cases, beyond the headlines there’s some really worrying stuff being proposed.

Most immigration matters will receive no legal aid at all—the government’s justification is that these matters are straightforward or that immigration is a choice, not a life-or-death situation. Well, yes and no—of course that does apply to some people but lots of immigration advice and representation is for people already here, fighting a decision made by officials which often get overturned on appeal. For example, refugees can apply to bring to the UK close family members who weren’t able to travel here with their loved ones. In the majority of cases where the initial application is refused, the courts have to tell the government that they got it wrong.

We don’t think it’s right that the government should refuse to pay for people to be helped and represented to make reasonable challenges to these decisions. And is the government going to stop using legal professionals to help argue its case? Don’t hold your breath on that one.

MPs this week rightly raised the point that the need for help doesn’t go away, the burden just falls on already stretched voluntary organisations such as the Refugee Council, and will no doubt add to the amount of work MPs themselves end up doing to help resolve people’s cases.

Also, most firms and organisations providing legal support to asylum seekers will not survive without the immigration work, so the very limited pool of solicitors and advisers will get even smaller.

Many organisations and experts have pointed out that cuts can be made without taking away vital support for people in the most difficult of circumstances.