5 Sep 2019

The Bishop of Derby has written to the Lord Chancellor calling on him to ensure legislation that will bring legal aid back into scope for unaccompanied and separated children, is not delayed by prorogation.

Bishop Libby Lane has written to Robert Buckland as Vice Chair of The Children’s Society and is asking that parliamentary time urgently be given for the amendment to be debated by both houses before parliament is prorogued or potentially suspended for a snap general election.

In 2013 the government made changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’) that prevented unaccompanied and separated children and young people from being able to access legal aid in their non-asylum immigration cases. In response The Children’s Society embarked on a five-year legal battle to restore this vital support for children, represented by a legal team from Islington Law Centre, Brick Court Chambers and Doughty Street Chambers, the charity won the case in July 2018. The government capitulated and said they would reverse the changes by December 2018 and bring immigration and citizenship matters into scope.

Further delays followed and it was not until July 2019 the draft legislation was laid in parliament and was due to be debated by both houses after the summer recess. However, the current political environment risks more delays to this simple legal matter. The Children’s Society is deeply concerned about the effect this could have. Mark Russell, CEO of the charity says:

“It is unacceptable that there have already been so many delays. Ultimately it is these vulnerable children, who are on their own and need support, that are being let down. These are children have been separated from their families and have no parent or guardian looking out for their best interests. But their immigration status, or lack of, is hugely important to their safety, welfare and life chances. Without legal aid they are forced to either find thousands of pounds to pay for advice and representation or try to navigate the complex immigration rules and human rights law all alone. The government agrees with us on this point so now we need to push ahead and make this a reality for children as soon as possible.

“We know children are being let down and left with a precarious immigration status and then subjected to the ‘hostile environment’ policies. Our research found that some were left 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.”

The letter also states the need for implementing this amendment is even more vital following the roll-out of the EU Settlement Scheme. It’s estimated there are around 5,000 looked-after children with EU nationalities in the care of the British state that need to secure their status or citizenship as the UK prepares to leave the EU, and the majority of these children will be unaccompanied or separated. Most of these children will have complex backgrounds and have difficulty documenting their length of stay in the UK as well as their nationality - they will and are requiring legal advice and support. If this amendment is not implemented before prorogation, these children face further delays and issues and it could result in them becoming unlawful residents in the UK after the EU Settlement Scheme deadline. 

Bishop Libby has said: “I hope this letter will encourage the government to act swiftly and fulfil its obligation to implement this reform before parliament rises. It must not let the current political environment act as a barrier to giving needed certainty to some of the most vulnerable young people in the country.”

ENDS

For more information, please call Charlie Neal 020 7841 4520 or email charlie.neal@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.  

 
Notes to Editor