New regulations are threatening access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in society, including victims of human trafficking.
Hope for Justice is calling on the UK government to reverse their decision to set a new legal aid fee for asylum and immigration appeals, which will render it “financially unviable” for lawyers to take on immigration and asylum cases, including complex trafficking cases.
The global anti-slavery charity is also urging members of the public to help overturn the new legal aid rules, which have been brought in before a full consultation has taken place.
One of Hope for Justice’s Independent Modern Slavery Advocates, who works directly with survivors of modern slavery, said: “These new legal aid rules are a huge barrier to justice for victims of trafficking.
“The majority of people who escape modern slavery require access to immigration advice and legal representation to stabilise their status in the UK. Having secure status is a fundamental building block for their recovery as well as accessing many support systems, including housing and welfare benefits.
“Hope for Justice’s IMSAs are passionate about access to justice for all and believe that further legal aid cuts will create a justice system which is only accessible to those who can afford it.
“The government needs to take seriously its commitment to victim care in the UK by ensuring that victims of modern slavery and human trafficking have access to legal advice and representation.”
The amended regulations are the latest blow to the legal aid sector, which is already in crisis. Research by Refugee Action shows that there has been a 56 per cent drop in the number of asylum and immigration legal aid providers since 2005.
Hope for Justice’s IMSA added: “Trafficking cases are often complex as a direct result of the individual’s exploitation. For example, they may have faced forced criminality or they may be unable to provide evidence of their residence in the UK because their documentation was taken from them. This is in addition to navigating the complex trauma often suffered during exploitation.
“If our clients are unable to access legally aided solicitors to represent their case, it is likely they will not only be victims of exploitation in the UK, but also become victims of our immigration system.”
The amendment to the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 came into force on June 8 and is due to last for one year, setting a new legal aid fee for asylum and immigration appeals.
Under the new rules, legal aid lawyers can only begin charging an hourly rate once their work on a case exceeds three times the value of the fixed fee, which currently stands at £227. The new fixed fee is £627 for an asylum case and £527 for a non-asylum case.
The new rules will also require barristers to prepare a skeleton argument earlier in the appeal process. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has warned that barristers could be paid as little as £60 for a skeleton argument. Twenty barristers’ chambers that specialise in immigration and asylum work have united in refusing to accept cases under this new fee model.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers has described the changes as “financially unviable” and “harmful to access to justice.”
How can you help?
Hope for Justice is urging members of the public to write to their MP and oppose the new legal aid rules. Young Legal Aid Lawyers has produced a template letter which is available here.
Hope for Justice is also encouraging anyone who works in the sector to complete this survey.