Reinstating legal aid for migrant children in care would save at least £4 million a year, according to a legal charity promoting children’s rights. A report by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre looks at how the LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) cuts have impacted on children.
The group warns that while the UK had a strong legal framework for the protection of young people, the rights were ‘worth little more than the paper they are written on if they cannot be enforced in practice’. You can read the report here.
The charity delivers immigration advice through its Migrant Children’s Project. In the year end June 2017, its advice line dealt with 1,153 cases. The group estimates that 612 of those calls (53%) related to an immigration issue out of scope for legal aid including 234 that related to a separated child or care leaver.
According to the group, many of the cases it dealt with were children, young people or families ‘effectively blocked’ from accessing a legal route to regularisation and settlement. ‘Without access to legal help and representation people struggle to advocate effectively for their rights and as a result risk having their right to a family life violated,’ the group said. ‘The reality of this means either deportation to another country, which might for example involve the separation of a parent from their child, or people remaining with insecure immigration status in the UK, leaving them destitute and potentially open to exploitation.’
The group argues that government assurances that most migrant children in care would not be left without legal representation was not the case in practice. The Ministry of Justice estimated that there would be almost 2,500 immigration cases each year involving children as claimants in their own right which would no longer be within scope for legal aid. According to the group, that was ‘likely to be an underestimate’. ‘The Migrant Children’s Project alone advised 234 separated children and young people with an out-of-scope immigration issue over the past year,’ it says.
The Children’s Legal Centre called the LASPO cuts ‘a false economy’. ‘It has been estimated that, assuming a local authority only dealt with five children’s cases a year the cost shift onto local authorities from LASPO amounts to £10 million a year,’ the group says. ‘This is significantly more than the Ministry of Justice expenditure for all children’s immigration and asylum cases prior to the changes to legal aid (£5,751,842 in 2012-13). Allowing for inflation, the restoration of legal aid for all migrant children in care would still result in at least an estimated £4 million annual saving.’
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