The ‘Windrush generation’ may be denied justice as a result of the 2013 legal aid cuts, the Law Society warned.
Most non-asylum immigration cases were taken out of the scheme as a result of the cuts under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). The Society’s president Joe Egan said that legal aid was ‘essential so anybody facing such an unjust scenario can get legal advice right at the outset, whatever their circumstances’.
In an article for the Guardian last week, Fiona Bawdon argued that the cases highlighted by the Guardian’s Wndrush generation coverage would have been made ‘immeasurably worse’ by the cuts. The journalist had written about the plight of the ‘Surprised Brits’, as she called them, in a report published back in 2014 (Chasing Status, published by LAG).
‘The results of the government’s long-awaited review of the impact of cuts to legal aid are urgently needed,’ Egan continued. ‘Thousands of people who were eligible for legal aid on one day [31 March 2013] became ineligible the very next day. When people cannot access advice or protect their rights, effectively those rights do not exist.’ The experiences of the Windrush generation showed ‘how easily people can fall foul of complex immigration rules and an administration that routinely makes incorrect decisions’, Egan said.
More than 22,000 people with immigration problems received legal advice through legal aid in the year before the cuts. But, as the Law Society pointed out, by 2016 just three people were able to get this vital support. Joe Egan points out that know half of Home Office immigration decisions are overturned when reviewed by a judge. ‘This is clear evidence the system is broken,’ Egan added.
Legal aid is a lifeline for the vulnerable. Early legal advice can help people resolve problems quickly and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to the individual and saves taxpayers money.
There is a Home Office helpline however Egan said it was ‘vital that anyone affected gets independent legal advice so they know their rights and understand clearly what they need to do to settle their status and claim compensation if they have suffered as a result of Home Office errors’. ‘Removing lawyers from the process is a false economy and may prove damaging for people who rely on the Windrush helpline,’ he said.
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