As the Legal Aid Bill goes back to the House of Lords for debate this week, the Refugee Council and Law Centres Federation have written to the Legal Aid Minister, Jonathan Djanogly MP, expressing concern at the Government’s proposals to cut legal aid which will leave children without access to legal advice on immigration cases.
Mr Djanogly last year made a statement that the gaps left by the cuts would be filled by the Refugee Council, law centres and pro bono advice and representation:
In most immigration cases, a child’s interests are represented by their parent or guardian. Most cases in which a child is unaccompanied involve an asylum claim, and legal aid will remain for those cases as at present. Unaccompanied children with an asylum or immigration issue would have a social worker assigned to them, whose role would include helping the child to gain access to the same advice and support as a child who was permanently settled in the UK.
They could also offer assistance with filling in forms and explaining terms, and give emotional support. Legal support in such immigration cases may be found, if needed, from law centres and from pro bono legal representation. The Refugee Council provides services for separated children, which can include litigation friends.
(Hansard HC, Report, 31 Oct 2011 : Columns 689-690)
In their letter, the Refugee Council and the Law Centres Federation have pointed out that this will not be possible due to increased pressures on their services amid cuts across the board, among other reasons. We have urged the Government in this letter to rethink their plans and make sure that children in need of expert help with immigration matters are not forgotten.