Moved by Lord Bellamy
154: Clause 55, page 58, line 19, at end insert—“(6) The Access to Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (S.I. 2003/435 (N.I. 10)) is amended in accordance with subsections (7) and (8).(7) In Article 14 (decisions about provision of funded services), after paragraph (2A) insert—“(2AA) But paragraph (2A) does not apply to a grant of representation for the purposes of—(a) proceedings before the Upper Tribunal mentioned in paragraph 2(ic) of Schedule 2 (proceedings under or for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023),(b) proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under or by virtue of section 2AA of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 (jurisdiction: appeals in relation to the Illegal Migration Act 2023), or under rules under section 5 of that Act made for the purposes of that section, or(c) an appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court in respect of proceedings mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) or (b).”(8) In paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 (civil legal services: exceptions to excluded services), after paragraph (ib) insert—“(ic) proceedings before the Upper Tribunal under any of sections 43 to 48 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, or under Tribunal Procedure Rules made for the purposes of any of those sections,(id) proceedings before the Upper Tribunal on an application for judicial review within the meaning of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 (see section 4(6) of that Act), where the application relates to that Act,”(9) The Civil Legal Services (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 (S.R. (N.I.) 2015 No. 195) are amended in accordance with subsections (10) to (14).(10) In regulation 2 (interpretation), in the definition of “representation (higher courts)”, in paragraph (f), after “2(ib)” insert “, (ic) or (id)”.(11) In regulation 31 (applications for advice and assistance)—(a) in paragraph (1), after “Subject to” insert “paragraph (1A) and”,(b) after paragraph (1), insert—“(1A) An application for advice and assistance may be made to a supplier by an applicant by telephone where the applicant is being detained under paragraph 16(2C) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (detention under authority of immigration officer for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023) or section 62(2A) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (detention under authority of Secretary of State for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023).”, and(c) in paragraph (3), after “except where” insert “paragraph (1A),” (12) In regulation 32 (extensions)—(a) in paragraph (1), for “paragraph (2)” substitute “paragraphs (2) and (2A)”, and(b) after paragraph (2) insert—“(2A) No extension shall be required under paragraph (1) if the advice and assistance is advice and assistance mentioned in regulation 4(1)(n) of the Financial Regulations (advice and assistance relating to removal notices under the Illegal Migration Act 2023).”(13) In regulation 41 (applications for certificates)—(a) in paragraph (2), after “Subject to” insert “paragraph (2A) and”,(b) after paragraph (2), insert—“(2A) An application for a certificate under this Part may be made to a supplier by an applicant by telephone where the applicant is being detained under paragraph 16(2C) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (detention under authority of immigration officer for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023) or section 62(2A) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (detention under authority of Secretary of State for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023).”,(c) in paragraph (3), after “The applicant shall” insert “, except where paragraph (2A) applies,”, and(d) in paragraph (3)(b), after “met” insert “(where they apply)”.(14) In regulation 43 (determination of applications for certificates)—(a) in paragraph (1), for “paragraph (2)” substitute “paragraphs (2) and (3)”, and(b) after paragraph (2) insert—“(3) But paragraphs (1) and (2) do not apply to an application for a certificate in respect of—(a) proceedings before the Upper Tribunal mentioned in paragraph 2(ic) of Schedule 2 to the Order (proceedings under or for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023),(b) proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under or by virtue of section 2AA of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 (jurisdiction: appeals in relation to the Illegal Migration Act 2023), or under rules under section 5 of that Act made for the purposes of that section, or(c) an appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court in respect of proceedings mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) or (b).”(15) In regulation 4 of the Civil Legal Services (Financial) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 (S.R. (N.I.) 2015 No. 196) (exceptions from requirement to make a determination in respect of an individual's financial resources)—(a) in paragraph (1), after sub-paragraph (m) insert—“(n) advice and assistance provided to an individual who has received a removal notice, in relation to the removal notice, and such advice and assistance—(i) includes advice and assistance in relation to a suspensive claim relating to the removal notice, and an application under section 45(4) of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 as regards such a claim, but(ii) does not include advice and assistance in relation to an application for judicial review within the meaning of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 (see section 4(6) of that Act) relating to the removal notice;(o) representation in respect of—(i) proceedings before the Upper Tribunal mentioned in paragraph 2(ic) of Schedule 2 to the Order (proceedings under or for the purposes of the Illegal Migration Act 2023), (ii) proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under or by virtue of section 2AA of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 (jurisdiction: appeals in relation to the Illegal Migration Act 2023), or under rules under section 5 of that Act made for the purposes of that section, or(iii) an appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court in respect of proceedings mentioned in paragraph (i) or (ii).”(b) in paragraph (3), at the appropriate places insert—““removal notice” has the meaning given by section 37 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023;”““suspensive claim” has the meaning given by section 37 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023;”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment makes provision about legal aid in Northern Ireland for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, Clause 55 will ensure that individuals who receive a removal notice under the Bill have access to free legal advice. The clause at present applies only to England and Wales. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, properly asked what the position is regarding Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Government advise that legislative provision is not required to ensure persons issued with a removal notice can access free legal advice in Scotland. Legislative changes are required, however, in Northern Ireland. Amendment 154 ensures analogous provision in Northern Ireland to that already applicable to those seeking legal advice in England and Wales. It is simply an extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Bill. That is the content of government Amendment 154. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, has an amendment in this group and I defer to him at this point. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 155, which is in the same terms as it was in Committee. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Prashar, and of course to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, for putting their names to this amendment and adding some lustre to it. I am also grateful for a superb briefing note from Bail for Immigration Detainees, ILPA and the Public Law Project.
In my view, ensuring that those who are detained have legal advice at an early stage is of fundamental importance. Obviously and above all, it is important to the detainees themselves, but it is also important to the reputation of our much-vaunted legal system. I ask the House to think about it for a moment: the proposition that, in our country, any person, whether adult, child, pregnant woman or victim of trafficking, can be deprived of their liberty and, at the same time, of proper legal advice is horrific, unconscionable and unconstitutional.
Clause 55 provides for insufficient access to civil legal services. It is concerned with free legal advice and representation only in relation to removal notices. It makes access contingent upon receipt of a removal notice and does not ensure that the necessary services will be made available shortly after a person has been detained. I remind the House that there is no set timeframe in the Bill for the Home Secretary to serve a removal notice under Clause 7. It is therefore not unrealistic to suggest that an individual could be left to linger in detention for days and even weeks before a removal notice is served by the Home Secretary and thus before they are able to access legal aid under Clause 55. Accordingly, the Bill does not provide for people trapped in its provisions assurance of access to free civil legal services before a removal notice has been served on them.
Clause 55 also does nothing to address the reality that it is practically impossible for many people to access legal aid under existing entitlements. There are, as I think the House knows, vast numbers of unrepresented individuals seeking asylum and in detention due to the current unsustainability of and lack of capacity within the immigration and asylum legal aid sector.
Our Amendment 155 introduces a new clause—a duty to make legal aid available to detained persons, which would address this issue in England and Wales by supplementing what the Government intend to achieve in their Clause 55. It would place a duty on the Lord Chancellor to make civil legal aid available to detained persons in relation to already in-scope judicial review and immigration matters, and suspensive claims, within 48 hours of their detention. This is crucial, given that the Bill gives the Home Secretary wide powers to detain families indefinitely, to detain children who are alone and to detain vulnerable people such as pregnant women, while also placing a duty on the Home Secretary to remove them, with short timeframes to make suspensive claims with compelling evidence to prevent such removal.
I hardly need to remind this House of Parliament that the provision of legal aid is a key component of ensuring the constitutional right of access to justice—itself inherent in the rule of law. The courts have repeatedly upheld the principle that a failure to provide legal aid can amount to a breach of fundamental rights. Legal aid is essential to ensure that people without means can secure effective access to justice and redress.
So why is this amendment needed? As I think the House knows, legal aid was, in effect, decimated in this area of law by the legal aid cuts of 2013. Most non-asylum immigration matters are excluded, which has damaged the entire immigration and legal aid sector and the ability of everyone, including individuals seeking asylum and those in detention, to access reliable, quality legal aid immigration advice. Immigration law is highly complex and extremely difficult, if not impossible, to navigate without a lawyer.
It is unrealistic to believe that individuals seeking asylum, who have just arrived in the UK and who may be traumatised or vulnerable and who may speak little or no English, can understand our complex laws and make effective representations without professional legal assistance. As stated by Lord Justice Underhill in last week’s decision on the Rwanda scheme, cases where decisions are fair and where there has been no access to legal assistance are “likely to be exceptional”. I pray that in aid of this amendment. Amendment 155 would help to secure timely access to legal assistance, which is crucial to the fairness of decision-making.
The Ministry of Justice has accepted the strict timelines implemented through the IMB, and the anticipated high volume of cases poses a unique challenge, particularly in the light of the challenges provided by the existing caseload and the capacity constraints within the sector. In Committee, we discussed the lack of capacity in this area, and it is absolutely enormous—I could waste the House’s time by repeating some of those quite astonishing facts. There are no legal aid solicitors doing immigration work in Lincolnshire, which may cause a bit of a problem at Scampton airbase which is planned to be a place of detention. This is the case not just in Lincolnshire; there are none in Norfolk or, moving south, in Suffolk, or, further south, in Essex—what an astonishing position that is. There are other examples but I am not going to go into them tonight. I am aware that the Government are having a short consultation in order that it may be possible to put up the rates for immigration legal aid lawyers by up to £15. I welcome that, but if the Government really think that that is going to effect change around the issue of our capacity they are clearly wrong. Capacity has worn down over the last few years because of LASPO and its consequences.
Amendment 155 would ensure that a detained person will be able to access civil legal aid services, including legal aid assistance to prepare properly a human rights or asylum claim before their claim is declared inadmissible and they are served with a removal notice. The Bill provides an extremely short timeframe of seven days for an individual to seek and find legal advice and representation and provide sufficient instructions for a representative to submit a suspensive claim with compelling evidence against removal. As a result, the vast number of inadmissible applicants which the Home Secretary will have a duty to remove will simply not be able to find a legal representative to challenge their detention.
That is where I will end my speech in moving this amendment, which goes to an essential principle of English law: that everyone who comes under the auspices of English law should have the right to have legal representation and advice at the earliest possible opportunity. The Bill does not give them that; this amendment does. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who moved this amendment with great skill. I am not going to make a long speech in support of him, because he does not need it. My observation, from refugees and asylum seekers whom I have met in a particular role during the last year, is that many complain that the legal advice they were able to obtain locally, wherever they were placed, was often not accurate, and they had to go through a second round of legal advice.
It is essential that people have access to competent, accurate and correct legal advice, or at least legal advice that might be correct, to enable them to challenge the case made against them. Many of the cohort of people we are talking about are numbed by the experience they have had. They did not expect to be treated as they have been by the United Kingdom. Perhaps, as the Government claim, one might argue that there are some good reasons for their being treated in that way, but to deprive them of the most basic legal advice will cause offence not only to lawyers in your Lordships’ House but to many others.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ludford has put her name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, which he explained very fully, and these Benches support. One often hears that immigration law is too complex for non-lawyers to understand—I have long held the view that it should not be—but, frankly, it is too complex for many lawyers as well. You need to be a specialist, and that is recognised by the system, but one still hears some horror stories.
The realities of legal advice for anyone in detention in the immigration system have long been bleak. There may be advice sessions but they are 30 minutes long, and it takes a long time for the client to be brought to meet the solicitor, which eats into the 30 minutes. Even with the most articulate client, it can take quite a long time to take instructions. I was a practising solicitor for many years and this cohort, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, consists of individuals whose English may be inadequate. Interpretation is therefore required, which is cumbersome and difficult for everyone. In any event, they have a story that takes support to tell, and that requires a lot in the telling.
Given the relentless speed of the processes under the Bill, this amendment is very necessary. The Government have recognised that legal aid has a place here, given what they have done so far in the Bill and the consultation on the rates. Raising concerns about legal aid became even more relevant with last week’s impact assessment, which drew attention to the problems of accessing legal aid and legal aid services, especially outside London and the south-east. We are very happy to support this amendment.
My Lords, I am a Member of this House whose memory of legal aid probably goes back to before others were here. I was called to the Bar in 1963 and took an active part in legal aid, being not only a recipient of legal aid cases but sitting on legal aid committees. I view it as one of the great social achievements of the Labour Government ending in 1951, and it has been a matter of great sadness that its extent and benefit has been so diminished over the years.
We have here a very important need for legal aid. Most if not all of those needing legal aid will not be able to speak English, will have no knowledge of English law and will be left isolated without that assistance. For that reason, I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Bach—although, most regrettably, he is not putting it to a Division.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. I think the 1949 measure was a good measure following the Rushcliffe report. It had cross-party support then, and legal aid continues to have cross-party support.
I agree in principle with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that it would be a very good thing for us to be able to revisit the legal aid budget and ensure that many of the cuts, both to scope and to litigants, could be reviewed with a view to being more generous and trying to revisit the consequences of both the 1999 and the 2012 Acts. I am with the noble Lord there.
However, because we have seen such cuts right across the board and a reduction in scope across the board, I have concerns about this particular amendment for these cases unless and until we can grant similar support to many of the cases in this country that are left without support as a result of what has happened over more than 20 years. I know that noble Lords would say that this is a different case, but many of these cases are claims of great merit, but Governments have to make decisions. For my money, I would prefer to have a fair redistribution of the legal aid budget between people who have been cut out of it—many of whom would have been eligible right throughout the 20th century—and other cases that noble Lords have mentioned.
Regarding my noble friend Lord Bach’s Amendment 155, I agree with every word he has said. He introduced it by saying that legal advice is a fundamental right for the asylum seekers themselves. To address the point the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, made, it is about the way we should see ourselves as a country: making sure that people in the most desperate situation can avail themselves of the right to access our laws. The only way of doing that is with appropriate legal aid. Of course, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on the point he made, as well as with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
Access to high-quality legal aid within 48 hours would increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the immigration and asylum system. With adequate legal aid, people would be better able to make timely claims, increasing efficiency within the Home Office and the justice system. They would know what evidence they needed to produce and understand their prospects of success to enable them to make an informed decision regarding whether and how to proceed with their claim.
Amendment 155 would build on current legal aid arrangements. I understand that a good precedent for this is the facility for people detained at police stations. When a person is taken to a police station and it is decided that there is no criminal element to their case, they are allowed to access an immigration lawyer to obtain immigration advice. The police call the duty solicitor call centre, and there are lawyers on a duty rota to take up the case, provide immigration advice and decide on the merits of the case. A new 48-hour system would involve allocating a solicitor to an individual upon them entering detention.
For these reasons, I support my noble friend Lord Bach and believe that his amendment is a necessary measure to ensure access to justice for those in the immigration and detention system. I urge the Minister—who has particular expertise, it has to be said, in the field of legal aid in the civil courts—to consider this as favourably as he can. I understand that there is a review under way, but the amendment spoken to by my noble friend Lord Bach goes to the heart of the way that we, as a society, should treat the most vulnerable people when they come to our shores.
My Lords, clearly, the Government entirely accept that legal advice is fundamentally important in the present context. That is why we introduced Clause 55. The Government are well aware that, if the procedures for obtaining legal advice under the Bill are not appropriate, legal challenge will follow. That is constraint enough to ensure that those procedures are sufficient to ensure the system works as fairly as possible. That is the approach of the ministry and, as I will say in a moment, that is how we are developing procedures to ensure that appropriate legal advice is available, and why the Government, while entirely understanding the points that have been made, respectfully feel that Amendment 155 is not the correct way to achieve the desired result, which is certainly one that is shared by everyone: that there should be appropriate legal advice.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for his comments on the importance of legal advice, and to my noble friend Lady Lawlor for the reservations that she expressed. In the longer run, the whole area of legal advice, not just on immigration, is for review, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, just said. The Government regard this as being at the heart of a fair justice system.
However, on this particular amendment, we already have established procedures, both at Manston and immigration removal centres, for individuals to access legal advice. I understand that, at Manston, there is scope for unlimited free phone calls to be made. There are notices and other bits of information about how you contact a lawyer: the names are given and the rotas change. Those procedures are there. Similarly, at immigration removal centres there is already a procedure similar to the police station procedure. It is not exactly the same, but there is the detained duty advice scheme, under which solicitors provides immigration advice on a rota system. That will be expanded as necessary. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, say that people have sometimes been misadvised; I hope that will not happen in the future, because the Ministry of Justice is determined that the system to be introduced will be coherent, joined up and, above all, fair. That is what the House and the country would expect.
We are engaging closely with legal aid providers, and we believe that our proposed capacity-boosting measures will enable us to attract sufficient providers. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, observed, we are out to consultation on increasing fees for this kind of immigration work. An ongoing Legal Aid Agency tender has been out since March, I think, which I understand has had an encouraging response so far. We are seeing an uptick in providers coming forward. Those procedures remain to be completed and it remains to be seen exactly how that works out, but that is at least encouraging. Other key areas of focus include the provision of remote advice—that might well go some way towards addressing the problems in Lincolnshire, Norwich or wherever it happens to be, but I am given to understand that there will be on-site advice at immigration removal centres—paying for travel times for providers, and various options for signposting and connecting up individuals to ensure that they actually receive appropriate legal advice.
The Ministry of Justice is working very closely with the Home Office on the detail of this. It is a ministerial responsibility to follow closely and ensure that these measures cut the mustard, if I may use that expression, and come up to proof—to mix my metaphors somewhat dramatically. In that regard, and for those reasons, I invite the House to accept that Amendment 155 is not necessary because we are thoroughly on the case and our objective, which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly drew attention to, is shared.
Amendment 154 agreed.