The Refugee Council was this week disappointed that the government is continuing with its proposals to slash legal aid, leaving some of the most vulnerable people in society, including asylum seekers and refugees without access to justice. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which passed through the House of Commons this week at report stage, outlines the government’s proposals to cut legal aid for asylum support cases and family reunion cases for refugees, amongst other areas. One positive change to the Bill has meant people facing indiscriminate violence, unlawful killing or execution in their own country, as well as those fleeing persecution, will be eligible for legal aid in certain circumstances.
Earlier this year, the Refugee Council responded to a government consultation on the proposals, calling for the government to reconsider its proposals. The charity has also supported the Law Society’s Sound Off for Justice campaign, which offers the government alternative cost savings without denying people legal support.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We are extremely frustrated that our recommendations for ensuring asylum seekers and refugees have access to legal aid have been dismissed. In particular, it is concerning that refugees attempting to bring their families here are being treated as straightforward immigration cases, and will not be eligible for legal aid to challenge the government, which has been shown to get the majority of first decisions on these claims wrong. Refugee cases will undoubtedly be complex, with families stuck in countries where they are being persecuted or are missing – these people need legal support to ensure their applications for family reunion will be considered.
“Although we are pleased that legal aid will be extended to people who are faced with indiscriminate violence as well as those facing persecution in their own countries, we are still very concerned that there are many circumstances in which these people will have nowhere to turn for access to justice. While we know cuts must be made, there are alternatives to allowing the most vulnerable people to go without the legal help they need. We strongly urge the House of Lords to now reconsider these proposals.”