Cuts to legal aid for immigration issues mean members of the Windrush generation may be denied justice as they try to settle their status and rebuild their lives, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.

Law Society president Joe Egan said: “As far too many people who came to the UK as children now know, an immigration issue can quickly spiral out of control with disastrous consequences – jobs are lost, health and social services denied, in the worst cases people are detained and face deportation, despite having every right to call this country their home.

“When the fallout can be so catastrophic, we believe that legal aid is essential so anybody facing such an unjust scenario can get legal advice right at the outset, whatever their circumstances.

“The results of the government’s long-awaited review of the impact of cuts to legal aid are urgently needed. Thousands of people who were eligible for legal aid on one day (31 March 2013) became ineligible the very next day. When people cannot access advice or protect their rights, effectively those rights do not exist.

“The experiences of the Windrush generation illustrate how easily people can fall foul of complex immigration rules and an administration that routinely makes incorrect decisions. It is only just that everyone should have access to legal advice to navigate this labyrinthine system.”

Joe Egan added: “We know 50% of Home Office immigration decisions are overturned when reviewed by a judge – this is clear evidence the system is broken.

“Legal aid is a lifeline for the vulnerable. Early legal advice can help people resolve problems quickly and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to the individual and saves taxpayers money.”

Of the Home Office helpline set up for the Windrush generation, Joe Egan said: “It is vital that anyone affected gets independent legal advice so they know their rights and understand clearly what they need to do to settle their status and claim compensation if they have suffered as a result of Home Office errors.

“The government should make sure that anyone who cannot afford to get independent legal advice is supported to do so.

“Removing lawyers from the process is a false economy and may prove damaging for people who rely on the Windrush helpline.

“A properly funded legal aid system is an essential public service that ensures equal access to justice for all.

“We urge the government to restore and protect access to justice for everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances.”

Notes to editors

Updated 3 May 2018 to remove Legal Aid Agency statistics.

Almost all non-asylum immigration cases were taken out of scope by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). Asylum is still in scope because of Human Rights Act obligations. The main non-asylum immigration issues that are still in scope are:

  • Applications for indefinite leave to remain by victims of domestic violence whose current immigration status is based on their relationship with the perpetrator
  • Victims of trafficking, slavery or forced labour seeking to regularise their status
  • Proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – which essentially concern terrorist suspects
  • Bail applications for immigration related detainees.

Issues such as deportation and removal are no longer in scope, neither are refugee family reunion applications.

The Law Society review of LASPO – the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – gives an overview of the Law Society’s key areas of concern regarding the impact of changes to civil legal aid, introduced in part 1 of the Act.

The review focused on four key consequences of the legislation:

1. Legal aid is no longer available for those who need it
2. Those eligible for legal aid find it hard to access it
3. LASPO has had a wider and detrimental impact on the state and society
4. Wide gaps in provision are not being addressed

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

This article originally appeared on the Law Society website on 1st May 2018.