For my sixth story of injustice I have drawn on a case supplied to the Bach Commission by the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU). Our politicians talk about “fat cat legal aid lawyers,” or of lawyers earning £200 per hour, without realising that a lot of the legal help they are denying to people in need was previously available at very low fixed fees.
This case is a good example. Here is a family with a father in a coma, a mother the sole carer of her two British children, and two children who were born here and know no other country. Yet legal aid funds cannot pay a fee of £234 to help her to regularise her status as the children’s carer because this matter is “out of scope”.
The story of a mother and her children
“We were asked by a social worker to advise a mother who is the sole carer of her two British children since her husband went into a coma three years ago. The legal aid fixed-fee for this case would have been £234.
Social services refuse to pay for legal advice to make the application (at the legal aid rate) even though they know that it is in the best interests of the children, and far cheaper in the longer-term for the children, to be looked after by the mother.
The mother is also unlikely to be removed even though she will constantly live with the fear of it and has no means to support herself.”
There is nothing unusual about this case. Advice agencies up and down the country are seeing them all the time, yet there is nothing they can do to help unless they have access to charitable funds or other alternative surces of funding.
“The problems we have are the urgent and compelling cases that we see each day for which there is no longer public funding. We have had to try to find ways to secure the money from other sources or turn people away. This is not something we want to do and is very difficult and highly distressing for everyone involved. The imposition of unaffordable court fees has created further despair and unnecessary increased costs to other public services.
We now spend more time trying to apply for fee waivers for families who clearly haven’t got the means to pay the exorbitant fees that are being charged. If families can’t make the application to extend their existing leave to remain in the UK they lose their entitlement to work, to remain in the UK, and to access benefits and public funds. Cuts and reductions in the tribunal system mean that people are waiting even longer for their appeals to be heard which again means that the costs, such as those related to asylum support, or supporting children in need, are increasing . The Immigration Act 2014 with its policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’ has caused further hardship and reduced access to justice. The Immigration Bill 2015-16, which will extend this policy even when there are human rights claims, will further undermine the fundamental principles of access to justice.”
The Law Centres Network say:
“The removal of legal aid from most non-asylum immigration cases, coupled with ineffective regulation, have seen a veritable free-for-all of rogue immigration advisers providing shoddy services or part-services or defrauding people, putting their very status in the UK at risk (despite the best efforts of the regulator, the Immigration Services Commissioner) .
Law Centres are seeing more such victims who come to us for help: in one case, an EU national had gone through four immigration advisers over three years, simply trying to settle his permanent residence, only finally succeeding in doing so when he came to one of our London Law Centres.”
And the Brighton Housing Trust told us:
“The biggest impact of LASPO on those seeking immigration/asylum advice is the loss of advice for some very vulnerable clients that do not meet the new criteria. These clients will have to fund their advice themselves which is not possible for many. This means that they have to represent themselves which is difficult in an extremely complex area of law that is constantly changing or they stay in the country without regularising their status. This in turns slows down the judicial process.
For those that do not address their immigration status some will be assisted by Local Authorities where they have children or are very vulnerable, for instance those with mental health issues which is a cost to the Local Authority. There is the human cost where no advice is available: the very vulnerable can be open to exploitation or remain separated from other family members even where some will be British citizens.”
What a catalogue of human misery…
Is this justice?