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Coram Children's Legal Centre report looks at how legal aid cuts have impacted children's access to justice

Date of Publication: 
6 February 2018

CCLC says legal aid should be reinstated for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children

Coram Children's Legal Centre report looks at how legal aid cuts have impacted children's access to justice

06 February 2018

A new report this week by the Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) examines how cuts to legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) have impacted on children.

The report (available here) includes coverage of immigration law, and it warns that while the UK has a strong legal framework for the protection and support of children and young people, these rights are worth little more than the paper they are written on if they cannot be enforced in practice.

CCLC operates a number of legal advice services and holds a Legal Aid Agency (LAA) contract in immigration and asylum law. It delivers immigration advice through its Migrant Children's Project (MCP) which promotes the rights of all refugee and migrant children, young people and families, and works to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need whether they are unaccompanied or in a family.

The report states: "In the year from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017, the MCP advice line dealt with 1,153 cases, over half of which were from individuals calling about their case. Based on the information available to us, we estimate that 612 (53%) of those calls related to an immigration issue out of scope for legal aid, of which 234 related to a separated child or care leaver."

CCLC says many of the cases it deals with are children, young people or families effectively blocked from accessing a legal route to regularisation and settlement.

"Without access to legal help and representation people struggle to advocate effectively for their rights and as a result risk having their right to a family life violated. The reality of this means either deportation to another country, which might for example involve the separation of a parent from their child, or people remaining with insecure immigration status in the UK, leaving them destitute and potentially open to exploitation," the report warns.

The report also considers the situation of separated children and finds that despite government assurances that most migrant children in care would not be left without legal representation, this is not the case in practice.

"The Ministry of Justice estimated that there would be almost 2,500 immigration cases each year involving children as claimants in their own right, which would no longer be within scope for legal aid. CCLC research suggests that this number is likely to be an underestimate. The MCP alone advised 234 separated children and young people with an out-of-scope immigration issue over the past year," the report says.

CCLC says that cuts to legal aid for unaccompanied children are a false economy as greater costs are shifted elsewhere.

"It has been estimated that, assuming a local authority only dealt with five children’s cases a year (likely to be an underestimate, as highlighted above) the cost shift onto local authorities from LASPO amounts to £10 million a year. This is significantly more than the Ministry of Justice expenditure for all children’s immigration and asylum cases prior to the changes to legal aid (£5,751,842 in 2012-13). Allowing for inflation, the restoration of legal aid for all migrant children in care would still result in at least an estimated £4 million annual saving," CCLC finds.

CCLC recommends that the Government reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children in matters of immigration by bringing it back within 'scope' under LASPO.

Until legal aid can be fully reinstated for children in immigration cases, CCLC recommends that local authorities should develop written policies that offer clarity to their social workers, and the children they support, on their decision making process in relation to securing immigration advice for children, identifying specific timetables and eligibility for advice and representation.