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Children's Society says lone migrant children cut off from justice due to legal aid cuts

Date of Publication: 
18 August 2017

New report finds vulnerable children face impossible situation with their immigration cases

Children's Society says lone migrant children cut off from justice due to legal aid cuts

18 August 2017

The Children's Society yesterday released an important new report which finds unaccompanied migrant children are facing a punishing combination of cuts to legal aid and skyrocketing Home Office fees as they struggle to resolve complex immigration cases.

You can read the full, 69-page report, Cut off from Justice: The impact of excluding separated and migrant children from legal aid, here. A shorter version of the report is available here.

The report is an update to the original Cut off from Justice report published in 2015 (accessible from here).

The main findings from the new Children's Society report are that:

• Applications for non-asylum immigration legal aid have fallen by 82% between 2012/13 to 2016/17.

• In line with the findings from the 2015 report, there remain 'advice deserts' in certain regions across the country. Services remained concentrated in London and the South East, with one third of non-fee services regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) based in these two regions. This geographical distribution is similarly reflected in the number of applications for Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) – the safety net put in place after the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

• The number of OISC-regulated immigration advice services has reduced by 46% from 2012 to 2016. The largest cut in services for those offering free legal advice was for advice at Level Three (appeals and the most complex cases), which saw a cut of 54% between 2012 to 2016.

• Home Office fees for a variety of applications have seen an increase of at least 45% between 2013 and 2017 and an application for 'Indefinite leave to remain' in the UK, which often marks the end of an individual's immigration journey, has increased by 119%.

• Even in 2015/16, after the ECF scheme had been running for three years, children and young people made up only 16% of all ECF grants for immigration claims. Based on estimates of how many children would fall out of scope of legal aid, the 12 grants for ECF in 2015/16 make up less than 1% of the expected cases under the pre-LASPO system (estimated to be 2,490 in the year before LASPO was introduced.

Sam Royston, Policy Director at the Children's Society, said: "Expecting extremely vulnerable children and young people to find their way through complex legal problems on their own is unreasonable and cruel. Cut off from crucial help with legal costs and with Home Office application fees soaring, vulnerable children are finding themselves in impossible situations, with nowhere left to turn. As they struggle to find a way to pay, they are at serious risk of exploitation.

"All children and young people in the UK should be kept safe and have equal access to justice, regardless of where they were born. The Government must bring back access to legal aid, and waive its extortionate application fees, for all migrant children who are here on their own."

The Children's Society have set up a petition calling on the Government to reinstate legal aid for unaccompanied migrant children, which you can sign here.