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Best practice guide strengthens legal practice on statelessness in the UK

Written by John Kelly, EIN, 16 May 2017

As we reported on EIN in November, the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) and Liverpool Law Clinic published a comprehensive, 100-page best practice guide on statelessness and applications for leave to remain.

You can download your copy of the guide here.

We recently heard from one of the guide's authors so it's a good opportunity to remind EIN readers of this essential publication.

The authors, Judith Carter and Sarah Woodhouse, said in a blog post on the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) website that while the UK's procedure for granting statelessness leave holds out a promise of protection to people who are stateless, there is a danger that its potential will not be fulfilled and that stateless people in the UK will not benefit from it.

The introduction to the guide sums up the current challenges: "Between 9 April 2013 and 31 March 2016 the Home Office received 1592 applications for statelessness leave. In this period 39 applications were granted and 715 were refused, a success rate of around 5%. The number of applications seems low for a new category of leave of this nature, but the number of stateless persons living in the UK is unknown. Factors contributing to the relatively low numbers of applications include: lack of legal aid; low levels of awareness of the procedure amongst applicants, NGOs, and lawyers; some, or perhaps many, stateless persons already having refugee status or a grant of leave in another category; and many failed asylum seekers not being in touch with lawyers or indeed NGOs. Errors in Home Office decision-making and lack of clear entitlement to legal aid may have contributed to the low levels of grants, together with some of those refused not having met the requirements of the Rules. Experience shows that competent legal representation increases the proportion of cases granted statelessness leave."

The best practice guide seeks to address those challenges by equipping legal practitioners with the tools they need to offer high quality legal representation and to press for the best possible implementation of the procedure for granting statelessness leave.

Judith Carter and Sarah Woodhouse explained: "Immigration lawyers are just beginning to explore the scope and potential of the UK's statelessness procedure. The procedure is relatively new, having only been introduced in 2013 – so it is unsurprising that knowledge of the 1954 Statelessness Convention lags far behind knowledge of the 1951 Refugee Convention. There is little guidance from the Courts - only two judicial review decisions by the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber - which means key legal questions remain undecided.

"Because there is no automatic entitlement to legal aid, and many potential applicants are destitute, few lawyers have ever prepared and submitted a statelessness application. Even where a lawyer has done so, they probably won't have received a decision yet as a result of Home Office delays. This means they have no direct experience of what works and what does not work that they can draw on for future casework. Finding a lawyer with knowledge and experience is not easy."

Drawing on the expertise of lawyers working at Liverpool Law Clinic, Statelessness and applications for leave to remain: a best practice guide covers every aspect of the Home Office's statelessness procedure, and explores arguments that might be used to persuade (and challenge) the Home Office, as well as highlighting pitfalls to avoid.

The UNHCR Representative to the United Kingdom, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, says that he hopes the guide will contribute to strengthening the quality of legal representation being made on behalf of stateless people in the UK and, ultimately, improving their access to the rights that many of us take for granted.

Any views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EIN