Increasing Vulnerability of Justice for People Seeking Sanctuary

A recent report ‘Tipping the Scales: Access to Justice in the Asylum System’ which was launched with Refugee Action last week finally put some hard facts behind what we have all been noticing, the increasing vulnerability of justice. Like sand, it slips through the fingers of people seeking sanctuary.

The research, which featured evidence from NACCOM’s 2018 annual survey (full findings from which will be shared at this year’s conference) found that since 2005 there has been a 56% drop in legal aid providers in asylum and immigration and a 64% drop in not for profit providers.

Of the 48 NACCOM members surveyed for the research, only 10% said they were always able to refer refused asylum seekers to legal aid solicitors.

For those working with people seeking sanctuary, these figures will come as no surprise they back up what those on the ground have been facing for the past few years- a steady decline in access to justice. This has been sped up since the cuts under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2012.

For many, good quality legal advice early on in the process of claiming asylum can quite literally be a life-saver. So many of our member organisations are supporting people who have not been able to access quality advice early on, which has resulted in refusals, findings of non-credibility and years of destitution. Alongside the slow erosion of a person’s hope and health, there is a financial cost. In short, getting a decision right in the first place saves money.

Yet, whilst it’s clear that the system should be front-loaded so people can access justice early on, thus avoid unnecessary appeals and extended time on asylum support, in fact the opposite is happening.

So where do we go from here?

The Ministry of Justice is still undertaking their review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which the above report has been submitted to as evidence. There is always hope for improvements. Furthermore, increasing numbers of NACCOM members are now providing or looking to start providing some form of legal provision for the people they support. Whilst many would question whether the cash-strapped voluntary sector plugging the gap is good news, as the eternal optimist – I’ll take any positivity where I can!

Hazel Williams, NACCOM National Director

If you want to support sector wide calls for a better asylum system, you can share the report using the hashtag #StandUpForAsylum. Or why not visit the Refugee Action website where you’ll find a letter you can write to your MP in response to the evidence in this report.

Hazel will be leading a workshop on Access to Justice at the NACCOM Annual Conference on 25th September. Get your tickets to the event here.