Anger over plan to restrict legal aid for asylum claims

About 60 representatives from refugee and asylum organisations,
human rights campaigners and the legal profession attended an
emergency meeting in London last week to discuss their response to
government’s plans to reduce legal aid for asylum seekers to just
five hours.

The Lord Chancellor’s Depart-ment (now the Department for
Constitutional Affairs) launched a consultation document in June
that proposes limiting legal aid for initial advice, defined as
briefing the client and drafting a statement, in an asylum case to
a maximum of five hours.

Alasdair Mackenzie, member of the Immigration Law Practitioners
Association executive committee, said:”That will cut to a bare
minimum the work that can be done on asylum applications under
legal aid and will leave people unable to challenge decisions

The document says that legal aid costs have risen from £81.3m
in 2000-1 to £174.2m in 2002-3. It adds that the government
has a duty to ensure that the taxpayer “receives value for

While there are legitimate reasons why some asylum seekers change
representatives, there is evidence of clients “shopping around” for
advice, it says.

The government plans to introduce an accreditation system in
January 2004 for immigration law practitioners to address poor
quality advice.

However, several organisations believe the time restrictions on
legal aid will have the opposite effect. A Refugee Action
spokesperson said many quality legal firms would be forced out of
asylum work because they could not do a good job in the proposed

She added:”This will result in asylum cases being poorly prepared
by the least competent of legal advisers, leading to injustice and
even more appeals and reviews.”

Mackenzie said five hours was insufficient and that, in complicated
asylum cases, it could take hours for an asylum seeker to tell
their story.

Steve Symonds, a senior case worker at Asylum Aid, said those who
had suffered torture or abuse would “need time to build trust and

– Proposed Changes to Publicly Funded Immigration Work

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