A new report by the Children’s Society and the University of Bedfordshire, 'Cut Off from Justice: The impact of excluding separated migrant children from legal aid
', reveals that since removing legal aid access for immigration cases, many children are being forced to resolve their immigration issues on their own or are avoiding the issues altogether.
The report is a response to the exclusion of unaccompanied and separated migrant children from legal aid in matters of immigration as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. It demonstrates that the Act has impacted one of the most vulnerable groups of children in society, including trafficked children, children in private foster care and children with experiences of forced migration. Thousands of these children will be entitled in law to make immigration claims but will be unable to realise their rights in practice without free legal support.
Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) has repeatedly expressed deep concerns that the removal of legal aid from whole areas of law is leaving many children and young people unable to realise their rights, especially children in the immigration system who face long and complex administrative and legal processes. Without legal representation, a child’s immigration claim cannot be put forward or decided properly and their best interests may not be considered in line with domestic and international legal obligations. Ultimately, these children can face removal or deportation from the UK in breach of their rights because they could not get the help of a lawyer.
The Government anticipated that the voluntary sector, pro bono legal work or social worker support could all serve as an additional safety net protecting children’s legal rights, but the report shows that this is no solution. There is extremely limited alternative provision for those who cannot afford to pay privately. A significant proportion of the children and young people CCLC works with are destitute and there is no prospect of them obtaining private legal services. Any alternative sources of free advice that do exist are unable to meet the scale of unmet need.
Kamena Dorling, who manages CCLC’s Migrant Children’s Project, said:
‘Since drastic cuts to legal aid in April 2013, we are seeing thousands of children and young people unable to enforce the rights and protections that the law provides to them. Without legal support, they cannot navigate the complex legal processes they face, which have life-changing consequences.
The full report is available to download here.
We are calling on the Government to listen to the growing number of parliamentary bodies and other organisations which have expressed their deep concerns, and look again at the provision of legal services for children. We cannot leave children to navigate a complex legal system all on their own.’