The Refugee Council will join with campaigners, legal groups, and charities to stand up against further cuts to legal aid at a demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice today (4 June), as the government closes its consultation on the changes.
The Refugee Council is submitting a response to the consultation, outlining our concerns for asylum seekers and refugees who will no longer have access to justice if the proposals are put through. Our key concerns include:
- The introduction of a residence requirement, which will mean people who have not been resident in the UK for more than a year will not be eligible for legal aid. While asylum seekers are exempt from this rule, refused asylum seekers submitting new evidence will be unable to access free legal support. This will include survivors of sexual violence who have notoriously been given poor decisions on their asylum claims, and those who have new information to show they would be persecuted on return to their country and are submitting a fresh claim.
- Judicial review – lawyers will not be paid for work on applications for judicial review that do not get into court. Statutory authorities, however, often agree to settle on cases once they have entered the courts. This could affect unaccompanied children who have wrongly had their ages disputed by the authorities, and people who have been unlawfully held in detention and are challenging these decisions made by public bodies.
The Refugee Council has serious concerns that the proposals are secondary legislation following the Legal Aid, Sentencing, Punishment and Offenders Act, so will not be scrutinised by parliament. In addition, the government’s own evidence suggests the cost-savings of these specific proposals are negligible, and that costs could in fact increase as people attempt to represent themselves and appeal decisions.
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council says:
“The justification for these proposals is specious and deeply flawed. The government has admitted that the savings they will generate are negligible, yet the human costs will be extremely high, as people seeking to challenge decisions that directly threaten their life and liberty will be denied a route to justice. By targeting those in our society most likely to suffer from arbitrary and unlawful official decision making, but least able to defend themselves, and to do so for political advantage alone, smacks of a Government pandering to prejudice. We urge the Government to think again about these damaging proposals.”
The demonstration takes place at 4..30 pm outside the Ministry of Justice on 4 June 2013. See Save Justice UK website for more details.