Legal Aid: Immigration Cases

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of legal aid for immigration cases.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The Legal Aid Agency monitors the provision of immigration legal aid and takes whatever actions are operationally available to it to ensure a supply of providers.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

I was hoping for an answer but did not get one, so let me try this. While we all desperately want to see the Tories’ asylum backlog cleared, this effort must be well funded and must ensure access to justice. What we have instead is an under-resourced bureaucracy and a push to make rushed asylum decisions, combined with severe difficulty in accessing immigration legal aid, and as a result thousands of asylum seekers have effectively been denied the right to legal representation. Why do the UK Government stand alone in not recognising the enormous crisis in immigration legal aid?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

In fact, the Government spent £44 million on immigration legal aid in 2022-23. We have increased the hourly rate for those undertaking this kind of work, and we are looking at remote access and payment for travelling. All those steps we have taken to raise the level of funding in this important area. I have to say, however, that I think it takes a particular bit of brass neck for the SNP to lecture us on the funding of legal aid. I refer the hon. Gentleman to Scottishlegal.com, which has commented on how the SNP has decimated legal aid in Scotland.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

Perhaps the Minister can answer this question. The Bar Council has repeatedly highlighted the fact that asylum claimants who have otherwise meritorious cases have often gone through multiple appeals due to very poor or no legal representation. That jacks up the costs for the courts, the Home Office and local authorities, all the while trapping vulnerable people in an agonising limbo. If the Government will not address the crisis in immigration legal aid because it is the right thing to do, will they at least do so because it is the financially sound thing to do?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

As I have said, we are already increasing the fees for those who take on legal aid work in connection with the Illegal Migration Act 2023. That is a 15% increase on the increase that we have already seen. On top of that, we are rolling out remote access to the duty advice scheme and introducing payment for travel. Those are major steps towards ensuring the availability of legal aid. I therefore do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s description of the position. If he wants to start swapping comments from the Bar Council, I can quote the Scottish Bar Council’s views on the SNP’s record.