If you’ve been following Refugee Action on Twitter recently, you may have noticed lots of talk about the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Carys Davis - our Public Affairs Officer – has been following the Bill’s progress through Parliament. Here are her thoughts on its progress so far:
Government reforms to legal aid have been a hot topic here at Refugee Action for some time (see Sara’s blog post from January), so it was a big disappointment recently to hear the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was being fast-tracked through Parliament. Campaigners and critics have joined forces to argue that the measures proposed in the Bill –removing free legal advice for many areas of law – are far too important to rush through.
We can breathe a grudging sigh of relief perhaps that legal aid for asylum application issues will remain. But while the government recognises asylum is often a life or death issue, it argues that other immigrants have a choice over whether they stay in the country, can represent themselves and therefore don’t deserve free legal advice. And they’re catching refugees in this net – people with refugee status will not, for example, be able to access legal aid to help bring their families to live with them in the UK. Surely being able to live with one’s family unit is a straightforward human right? – (“Yep, Article 12 of the UN Declaration and Article 8 of the European Convention!” – JB, RA’s resident expert in all things litigious).
And without funding for legal aid in immigration cases, how many solicitors will continue to be financially viable take on asylum cases anyway? Last week’s closure of the IAS has been a devastating blow already. For far too many of our clients, accessing free legal advice is already akin to a mission impossible in many parts of the UK.
RA is lobbying to improve the Bill and will continue to do so as it progresses through the Commons and on to the Lords. To track its progress click http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/legalaidsentencingandpunishmentofoffenders.html and to see RA’s briefings go here.
Also check out the Justice For All website, a campaigning coalition we’re part of.