A national asylum and refugee charity is calling for changes to the UK’s legal aid system, which it says is failing asylum seekers.
Research conducted in the South West of England found that four out of every five asylum seekers who were refused legal aid by their lawyer had been wrongly refused such legal aid*.
Refugee Action, an independent national charity which has been standing up for refugee and asylum seeker rights for more than thirty years, is now calling for legal professionals to participate in a nationwide effort to help reform the legal aid system through its pioneering project, Access to Justice.
Refugee Action’s Legal Officer, Jean-Benoit Louveaux, said:
`Access to Justice aims to encourage better practice in the legal profession and to bring about an asylum system that is humane and fair, but first we need quantify how many asylum seekers are still being wrongly refused legal aid. Most asylum seekers have neither the financial, emotional or legal capacity to represent their case to the UK Border Agency (UKBA), let alone an immigration judge. We welcome any expressions of interest from advice and support agencies, or legal providers who may wish to refer clients who have been refused legal aid so that we can help overturn the decision’.
Research indicates that supporting asylum seekers to make their case at the early stage of their application helps the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to get decisions right first time and therefore avoid the expense of unnecessary appeals**. A quarter of all UKBA decisions are overturned on appeal but this number would be significantly reduced if proper legal support for asylum cases was made available.
A recent pilot survey*** conducted by Refugee Action between January and March this year found that those who had received no legal advice before their substantive asylum interview with UKBA were 30 per cent more likely to be refused asylum.
Jean-Benoit Louveaux added: `The next twelve months are critical, as UKBA looks at a number of ways of improving the asylum determination process. The Early Legal Advice Project (ELAP), in particular, is examining precisely what overall cost savings can be made by providing sufficient legal advice in the early stages of an asylum claim. In light of this, we aim to highlight the extent to which the current legal aid system is failing to deliver value for money for the government, and access to justice for asylum seekers, thereby encouraging policy makers to give careful consideration to alternatives such as ELAP.’
Refugee Action will work with those who have been refused legal aid at the appeal stage of their asylum claim and, where possible, will help to find them new legal representatives to appeal the UKBA’s decision.
Asylum seekers who have been refused asylum by UKBA and access to legal aid who wish to challenge the decision should contact the relevant Refugee Action office:
• Bristol, Gloucester or Cardiff: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject to eligibility and capacity, each office will accept referrals of any asylum seeker within their area who has been declined access to legal aid to appeal a refusal of asylum by UKBA. All referrals will assist Refugee Action in assessing barriers to legal representation and will inform policy recommendations to be published in a report next summer.