Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 6:30 pm, 12th March 2012

My Lords, I support the amendment. I am concerned that in the Minister's letter dated 1 March to all noble Lords he said that the Government were removing legal aid for what he called "routine" immigration matters. I have to say to him that there is nothing routine about many of the cases for which legal aid would be denied.

Many of these cases have two important characteristics. First, they concern issues of fundamental importance to the individuals concerned, as well as to society. There are few issues as vital to an individual as whether they should be deported from this country, or whether members of their family should be able to join them in this country. The second characteristic is that many of these cases are of extreme legal complexity. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, has already quoted what the Court of Appeal said last week; and those words would be equally true of very many areas of immigration law. Yet legal aid would not be available for appeals to the immigration judge, or on points of law to the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The UK Border Agency will of course have the benefit of lawyers to argue its case on such appeals.

I understand the need for cuts in public expenditure, but this proposal to remove legal aid in immigration matters is proceeding on the fundamental misapprehension that these cases are somehow routine-they are not.