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Law Society says Windrush crisis shows need for legal aid to be reintroduced for immigration cases

Date of Publication: 
2 May 2018
Summary: 

Statement warns Windrush generation may be denied justice due to cuts to legal aid

Law Society says Windrush crisis shows need for legal aid to be reintroduced for immigration cases

02 May 2018
EIN

The Law Society issued a statement yesterday saying that the Windrush crisis underscores the need for legal aid to be reintroduced for immigration cases (see our earlier article here for more background on the Windrush scandal).

The Law Society warned that cuts to legal aid for immigration issues mean members of the Windrush generation may be denied justice as they try to settle their status and rebuild their lives.

Joe Egan, the Law Society president, said: "As far too many people who came to the UK as children now know, an immigration issue can quickly spiral out of control with disastrous consequences – jobs are lost, health and social services denied, in the worst cases people are detained and face deportation, despite having every right to call this country their home.

"When the fallout can be so catastrophic, we believe that legal aid is essential so anybody facing such an unjust scenario can get legal advice right at the outset, whatever their circumstances.

"The results of the government's long-awaited review of the impact of cuts to legal aid are urgently needed. Thousands of people who were eligible for legal aid on one day (31 March 2013) became ineligible the very next day. When people cannot access advice or protect their rights, effectively those rights do not exist.

"The experiences of the Windrush generation illustrate how easily people can fall foul of complex immigration rules and an administration that routinely makes incorrect decisions. It is only just that everyone should have access to legal advice to navigate this labyrinthine system."

Egan said it was vital that anyone affected by the Windrush crisis is able to get independent legal advice so they know their rights and understand clearly what they need to do to settle their status and claim compensation if they have suffered as a result of Home Office errors.

The Law Society warns that removing lawyers from the process is a false economy and may prove damaging for people who rely on the Windrush helpline.

The then Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the House of Commons last week that members of the Windrush generation "do not need to have lawyers" when engaging with the new Home Office Windrush taskforce and helpline.

Rudd (who has since resigned after she "inadvertently misled" Parliament over deportation targets) told the Commons: "They do not need to have lawyers: in this process we have put in place, there will be no need for lawyers to engage."

According to the Law Gazette, Chai Patel, legal and policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said Rudd was 'grossly irresponsible' for advising people against seeking independent legal advice before calling the Windrush helpline.

Patel was quoted as saying: "Her [department] is in a state of constant catastrophe when it comes to decision making, with over 50% of appeals against its decisions successful. In these cases, there isn't even an appeal route. Nor is there any written guidance as to the scope and procedures under which this special taskforce will operate. We would certainly recommend that people contact our free helpline for undocumented migrants before calling the helpline."

Details of the JCWI helpline can be found here.