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Separated migrant children to be granted legal aid

MoJ written statement follows judicial review of legal aid cuts

The Ministry of Justice has announced that it will amend the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children into scope of legal aid.

The announcement was contained in a written statement to the House of Commons by Lucy Frazer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice.

The statement noted that under current legislation, whilst legal aid is available in all asylum cases and immigration cases where someone is challenging a detention decision, legal aid for other immigration matters is available only via the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme.

Ms Frazer said:

"Following a judicial review brought by the Children's Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding. Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice."

The Children's Society's research suggested that thousands of children have been denied legal aid since LASPO came into force in 2013.  Since then, only a small number have been able to access legal aid through Exceptional Case Funding.

The charity says that the change has left many children struggling to pay for the expert legal advice and representation they desperately need, which can cost thousands of pounds.

Reacting to the decision, The Children's Society Chief Executive, Matthew Reed said:

"The Children's Society is delighted with this excellent news. This is an important change in policy which will go a long way to protecting some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people in our communities.

"Legal aid is absolutely vital for ensuring that children can access justice. For children who are subject to immigration control and who are in this country on their own, it is an absolute life line. The government should be commended for this significant change for children and young people."

In its recent report, Rights without Remedies, Coram Children's Legal Centre estimated that there are several thousand children in local authority care where immigration is the primary issue, not asylum or trafficking. CCLC's Migrant Children's Project alone advised in the cases of 234 separated children and young people with an out-of-scope immigration issue last year. This advice casework formed the basis of a witness statement to the judicial review, brought by Islington Law Centre and The Children's Society, of the cuts to legal aid for this group.

For the MoJ written statement, click here. For The Children's Society's response, click here. For more information about the issue from CCLC, click here.

14/7/18