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.


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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Come at me bruh

No one cares, junior lawyers are overworked, underpaid and now at risk of losing their jobs in the regions, there is not enough legal aid in general, why is the YLAL bothering with this pet project when there are more pertinent issues to deal with.



‘This will create the invidious situation where there will not be lawyers that look and sound like the people we represent.’

But most White, middle class barristers are already nothing like the people they represent in court???

Funny how this only becomes an issue when they want to manipulate the public to claim poverty. Barristers always seem to have cash though for school fees, big overseas weddings, handbags, IVF and multiple holidays a year.

They really do think the people are stupid.



“This will create the invidious situation where there will not be lawyers that look and sound like the people we represent.”

I don’t actually care whether my lawyer looks or sounds like me.

I guess that’s just because I’m not a bigot who cares about skin colour, gender, accent…



It’s more a case that they prefer not to give the pupillage to anyone that doesn’t look or sound like them.

But of course, the shameful racial disparity in the profession only matters when their billings are on the line.


Also an immigrant

Anyone who has done some immigration work will know that solicitors who “look and sound like the people we represent” is part of the problem. They are lots of truly terrible small immigration firms who survive by taking advantage of clients of the same nationality. If only the quality of the work was what drove who clients used, rather than where the solicitor’s parents were born



When my friend did immigration work, she used to get bundles from these types of solicitors at midnight, mere hours before the hearing.

There’s a reason these people work on the high street and not anywhere else.



Yep, in a single sentence the appeal managed to make itself about identity politics and thereby lose any legitimacy.



What is the average amount of time being spent on such cases?


Mafia Racket

I used to be a SJW who had sympathy for legal aid lawyers.

That stopped completely when I noticed that the most awful people out there aren’t actually in government – they were the lawyers themselves.

The most ‘feminist’ of them had no issues parading LV monogram handbags that their wealthy boyfriends had bought them, whilst proudly claiming to be ‘independent women’ wanting to end ‘sexism’.

Many lived with wealthy parents whilst pleading poverty, and then relied on their parents again for flat deposits and BPTC fees because they never bothered to save anything. They would turn up to protests and berate ‘the Tories’ for ignoring the housing problems of people on council estates, and then spend summers at their parents’ second home in France/Spain/Italy.

Somehow, they were always the victim. Not their poor client who nearly died trying to get into the UK.

And of course, you could never criticise them, because then you are a ‘bitter person’ who ‘hates people only trying to help’.



I’d rather no taxpayer money was spent on this.


Kirkland NQ

£627 per case? I spent more than that on Diptyque air fresheners for the Lambo.



I bet you need plenty of air freshener to mask all the stale jokes you make



Be careful with candles. One might fall on you and cover the lambo in flames whilst you’re speeding up the M6


US Firm Associate

£627 per legal aid case is not much but not horrible either, not that far from market rates. I have used a very good UK law firms for each of my UK visa applications / extensions and paid less than £1,000 for each of them.

Obviously would be much better is the system allowed to increase pay for more complex cases (where there was a successful appeal etc.) but this is still good money for most standard immigration work (especially outside of London).



One would even question if a qualified lawyer is needed for most applications.


US Firm Associate

If one’s LPC starts in 3-4 weeks, one would probably prefer to use a lawyer rather than risk missing the start of LPC and delaying one’s training contract.

Especially if one had to wait the earlier visa for three months because Home Office case worker decided that no firm would be willing to pay for GDL and maintenance for its future employees and sent application for additional review god knows where.


US Firm Associate

I totally see why asylum seekers would need to have access to some legal advice (all Home office people I have met during the interview / Visa applications were really nice and welcoming but they are overloaded with applications and their decision making process is often very random and unpredictable), just saying that £627 may be a reasonable price for many situations (especially outside of London). What is stupid is the one size fit all approach, which does not allow to increase this for more complex cases or cases going to appeal etc.


Legal aid geek

Yes but that’s for a visa application, not for an asylum appeal. You may well not need a qualified lawyer for ‘most applications’, but this is certainly not ‘good money’ for the hours of work needed to take a detailed witness statement through an interpreter, read it back to them through an interpreter, often over more than one appointment because the account is long and the client is traumatised; research country background evidence, gather any other relevant witness statements, instruct necessary country / medical / other experts, put together the bundle for tribunal, instruct a barrister and now, under the new procedure, also have the barrister prepare the case and submit an advance skeleton argument. Far from good money, this level of fixed fees has driven a lot of organisations out of business or out of legal aid.



How many hours would you estimate are needed on average, and is it possible to give a breakdown of each task by number of hours? From the tasks you list I can see some potential for cost savings.



Shouldn’t need a solicitor and a barrister, one should be enough.



Also the majority of asylum claims come from a small group of countries, so there should be no need to research the country background each time.



Read the legislation itself first. It will cease effect in 12 months time – it is a temporary ‘tool’ to deal with the covid-19 situation. This will mean that the most desperate cases will be brought forward to ease the system. Although it will have negative effects in the mean time, it is arguably the lesser of two evils.


junior junior

I agree with legal aid geek. I thought it was a lot of money until I watched this video the other day: You say high street firms charge £1000 for immigration applications, but Mia’s case is so much complex. I can’t believe we have a system that doesn’t protect her. If you have, say, a commercial practice as a barrister, the starting rate is £275 an hour. There’s no way you could prep Mia’s case in three hours, that’s absurd. Where is the incentive for people to do this kind of work? And it’s so much more important than a contract!



That’s to compare apples to oranges. Although a client might be willing to pay £275 per hour that doesn’t reflect the true cost or value of the service. In reality the service could be provided just as well for a fraction of the price. Yes there will be exceptions but most of these cases are bog standard and involve little in the way of legal work, they’re mostly admin. They should easily be manageable for the fixed fees.



Most of the immigration barristers I know got there after 5 years of applying and failing to secure pupillage anywhere else. It’s better to take a pupillage than not, right?

They were all privately educated and all continue to have significant financial help from their parents.

These are not people on the breadline – they stay because they have other sources of income and don’t really need to start over in another career.



Completely agree that these changes must be challenged. This is a clear issue of access to justice.



The access is still there, its just that there will be a need for less extravagance and more value for money.


What ‘access to justice’?

If people really cared about ‘access to justice’ they would campaign for millions of charity shop, food bank and youth group volunteers to have the same recourse to tribunal as employees do to protect them from racism and harassment.

We are a long way off ‘access to justice‘, and it’s not because barristers feel they aren’t being paid enough.



They should indeed have that to have full employment rights, not just protection from racism and ‘harassment’ (whatever is meant by the latter).

In this case though, the issue is about management of money and expectations, not of access to justice.


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