Autumn 2019 legal advice survey finds new Detention Duty Advice providers lack experience
Bail for Immigration Detainees concerned by “severe depletion” in the quality of legal advice in immigration detention
10 February 2020
Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) last week published its autumn 2019 legal advice survey looking at the quality and availability of legal advice and representation in immigration detention.
The 20-page survey can be read here.
BID found: "In the survey, 59% of people surveyed currently have an immigration solicitor, and 68% of these are represented by a solicitor on a legal aid basis. These figures are similar to the corresponding figures in our Spring 2019 Legal Advice Survey (those figures were 64% and 69% respectively). This is an improvement upon previous years. However the level of legal representation remains worse than they were in the four surveys conducted in the two years prior to the implementation of the legal aid cuts in 2013. It remains unsatisfactory that over 40% of respondents either do not have, or do not know whether they have, an immigration solicitor."
The survey considers the contractual changes to the Detention Duty Advice (DDA) scheme made in September 2018 by the Legal Aid Agency. BID says the changes have been a matter of great concern, believing they have led to a "severe depletion" in the quality of legal advice in immigration detention.
BID noted: "The main feature of the changes has been a sharp increase in the number of providers. Prior to September 2018 there were eight or nine firms delivering the DDA in seven [immigration removal centres], there are now 77 firms. The vast majority of providers have never run DDA surgeries in the past and lack experience of detention work which is a very complex, fast-changing and specialist area of immigration law. Under the previous system firms were delivering regular surgeries, whereas now firms are unlikely to deliver more than 3 weeks of surgeries over a 2 year period in any given IRC. Such irregularity means that newer firms cannot build up expertise and those with experience risk losing their expertise."
BID interviewed 59 detainees who had booked an appointment with the DDA solicitor and found that the majority of interviewees painted a picture of consistently poor quality advice being given.
Only 8 detainees described receiving useful advice in the appointment, while 24 interviewees explicitly described the advice as bad, not useful, or stated that no advice was given.
BID was also concerned over the brevity of most of the appointments. Of the 59 detainees interviewed, 34 provided details on how long the appointment lasted: "Of the people who told us how long the appointment lasted, 74% said that it was shorter than 20 minutes, (at least 10 minutes shorter than the designated 30 minutes). 13 individuals said that the appointment lasted less than 5 minutes. Only 7 people estimated the appointment lasted between 21-30 minutes, and a further 2 people said it was longer than 30 minutes. So of the 34 people who told us how long the appointment had lasted, a maximum of 9 (but probably fewer) people had an appointment that was 30 minutes long (26%)."
In summing up the survey, BID's assistant director, Pierre Makhlouf, said "These results lay bare the sorry state of legal advice in immigration detention. But the stakes could not be higher – without access to quality immigration legal advice people are at the mercy of the Home Office and face long-term detention and removal from the UK. For many of our clients this means permanent separation from family in the UK, or being taken to a country that they have not seen in many years and may fear returning to. There is an urgent need for the reinstatement of legal aid for all immigration cases and an end to the inhumane system of immigration detention"