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Non-asylum immigration and citizenship matters for separated migrant children brought back into scope of legal aid

Summary:

Children's charities welcome change which means quicker and simpler access to legal aid

Date of Publication:
28 October 2019

Non-asylum immigration and citizenship matters for separated migrant children brought back into scope of legal aid

28 October 2019
EIN

The Legal Aid for Separated Children Order 2019 came into force on Friday and brings non-asylum immigration and citizenship matters back into the scope of legal aid for separated migrant children.

JusticeThe Legal Aid Agency says the amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 means migrant children who have been separated from their parents will get quicker and simpler access to legal aid. Previously, applying for exceptional case funding would have been required.

Justice Minister Wendy Morton MP said: "This is a positive step to make sure we are offering the right support and protection to some of the most vulnerable in our society. These changes will mean migrant children who have been separated from their carers can access the vital legal support they need faster and more easily."

The Government originally announced the policy change in July 2018 following a campaign and a legal challenge led by the Children's Society.

The Legal Aid Agency has now introduced transitional arrangements to enable separated migrant children to apply for legal aid in line with the new rules as quickly as possible. Transitional arrangements are needed as the Legal Aid Agency says it has not had time to complete the necessary changes to its case management systems owing to uncertainty around the Parliamentary timetable.

The transitional guidance is available to download from here on GOV.UK.

Children's charities welcomed the change.

Mark Russell, CEO of the Children's Society, said: "We are delighted the government has acted on their promise to ensure separated and unaccompanied children can resolve immigration issues and secure their citizenship, without the stress of applying for exceptional case funding, or trying to navigate complex human rights law all alone."

Rosalyn Akar Grams, Head of Legal Practice at Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC), said on Friday: "We welcome the passing of the statutory instrument today bringing this important amendment to LASPO, so that immigration and nationality matters for unaccompanied and separated children rightly come back into scope for legal aid. This is a vital step in ensuring vulnerable children are able to obtain legal advice and representation and secure access to justice. However, we hope that the Ministry of Justice will continue to consider the wider impact of LASPO on all children and young people, and work to remove the obstacles that children and young people face in making their rights a reality across many other areas of law."

CCLC says it will now work with the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and local authorities to ensure that all practitioners know about this change and so that steps are taken to identify children with unresolved immigration issues and ensure they can access free quality legal representation.

Aika Stephenson, Founder and Legal Director at Just for Kids Law, said: "Migrant children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. When they are left without legal representation, it is often impossible for their right to remain in this country to be formally recognised. We frequently work with children who have never had the opportunity to understand their legal rights in relation to their immigration status, including their right to British Citizenship.

"Bringing non-asylum immigration matters back into the scope of legal aid for unaccompanied children is therefore an important step towards ensuring that migrant children in the care system, and those who are otherwise separated from their parents, are able to access robust legal advice and support to obtain the right to stay in the country they call home. While this change is extremely welcome, the Government must now commit to ensuring that it reverses other measures in LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) so that all children, including care leavers, have access to the legal aid they need to ensure their rights and entitlements are respected."