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New legal aid rules threaten access to justice for asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants, young lawyers warn

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Young Legal Aid Lawyers urge Legal Cheek readers to back motion to block regulations

New rules that came into force on Monday 8 June threaten the sustainability of the asylum and immigration legal aid sector and access to justice for the most vulnerable.

Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) has been working closely with the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, Karl Turner MP, to call on the government to withdraw the rules (Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020) and to consult with the sector before the new rules cause huge damage.

The sector is on its knees. Research by Refugee Action shows that there has been a 56% drop in the number of asylum and immigration legal aid providers since 2005.

The new legal aid rates will make it financially impossible for lawyers to take on complex immigration and asylum cases. The immigration bar is united in refusing to accept instructions under this new fee model as the changes pose an existential threat to the profession. The regulations set a new legal aid fee for asylum and immigration appeals. These fees have been brought in before a full consultation has taken place, and a full impact assessment has not been carried out.

The standard fixed fee for a case lodged through the courts new platform will be £627 for an asylum case, or £527 for a non-asylum case. The changes will make legally aided asylum and immigration work financially unviable and harm access to justice.

Firms will be less likely to do legally aided immigration cases, particularly those which are complex and demand more time, for people with complicated histories and vulnerabilities. There is too great a risk that they will not be paid for hours of time. The alternative would be to do the bare minimum on a case, for the firm to pay its bills and survive.

Those who are most vulnerable tend to have the most complex cases, such as victims of trafficking and LGBT+ asylum seekers. These are the people who will be denied access to justice by the new rules.

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The changes will also have a serious impact on social mobility and diversity in the legal aid sector. If legal aid lawyers cannot earn a fair wage, then those without independent financial backing will not be able to enter or stay in the profession. This will create the invidious situation where there will not be lawyers that look and sound like the people we represent.

#APrayerForLegalAid

With YLAL’s support, the Official Opposition has tabled a fatal motion/prayer to strike down the new Statutory Instrument (SI) by way of an Early Day Motion (EDM 559). YLAL’s #APrayerForLegalAid campaign is a play on words as a prayer is the archaic parliamentary procedure by which the regulations can be blocked.

We urgently need MPs to add their names in support of the fatal motion/prayer. This could result in the SI being struck down before it does too much damage and could force the government to rethink its plans.

We have had a phenomenal response to our campaign so far, with hundreds of people tweeting their MPs calling upon them to support the fatal motion.

The campaign is working. Dozens of MPs have responded to these requests and have added their names. The Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer QC, has now signed the fatal motion. However, we need lots more MPs to add their support.

We call on all Legal Cheek readers to get behind this motion to defend access to justice. To find out how to get involved, see YLAL’s campaign page.

The more noise that we make, the greater chance we have of being heard and getting the government to rethink these damaging changes to legal aid. This is about the future of the profession and access to justice for those who need it most.

Young Legal Aid Lawyers is a group of lawyers that practise in areas of law that have traditionally been publicly funded. YLAL members include students, paralegals, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and qualified junior lawyers across England and Wales. They campaign for a sustainable legal aid system which provides good quality legal help to those who could not otherwise afford to pay for it.

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