Posted: 23 July 2019

Our legal aid success: one year later

One year ago, we were all celebrating a huge success, after winning a case against the Government to reverse harmful cuts to legal aid for separated children. The dedication of our supporters, partners and staff paid off to improve the lives of young people.

Recently, the lead barrister, Paul Bowen QC, who helped us achieve this incredible win received an outstanding achievement award at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards Although the case is just one of the many important cases Paul has led in his legal career, it was a defining moment for us.

How legal aid was taken away from unaccompanied children

In 2013 the Government stopped separated and unaccompanied young people from being able to access legal aid to support them with immigration issues. The government had estimated that this would prevent around 2,500 cases involving child claimants each year from accessing justice. They either had to find thousands of pounds to pay for advice and representation or try to navigate the complex immigration rules and human rights law all alone.  

Our research found that without legal aid support, children were being left with a precarious immigration status and subjected to the ‘hostile environment’ policies which left some homeless and destitute. Others were unable to access education or healthcare. In some cases we found that young people were forced to raise thousands of pounds to pay for legal fees, leaving them at risk of criminal exploitation.

Our case to the Government

We were extremely worried about the impact of the cuts, so for the first time in our history, we became a claimant in a judicial review against the Ministry of Justice. Our legal team was led by Paul Bowen QC and supported by excellent lawyers and barristers from Islington Law Centre, Doughty Street Chambers and Brick Court Chambers. Paul and the team worked with us, providing advice and support, collecting evidence and producing robust and coherent arguments for our case.

We were delighted when in July 2018 the government agreed to reinstate legal aid for separated and unaccompanied children in all non-asylum immigration cases. This important change, once implemented, will allow us to achieve justice for some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children in our communities.

How we've worked with the Government since winning our case

Over the last year we and members of the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium have continued to work with government to ensure they make true on their promise to children as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are helping officials at the Ministry of Justice to ensure that information about the interim arrangements, which offer separated children the chance to access the Exceptional Case Funding, are shared and the fund is used to help children. Once the changes go through, we will continue our work with the department to ensure the updates are shared with all relevant stakeholders, most importantly those in contact with children.

This is a significant achievement as so far it is the only cohort the government has agreed to bring back into scope for legal aid. The change all our supporters and partners helped bring about will have huge implications for thousands of children who need this vital support. It will ensure they can once again access the legal aid they so desperately need to live full and settled lives.

Find out more about our work with refugees and migrants 

 

By Ilona Pinter - Policy team