Access to high quality, funded legal advice is an essential part of any fair asylum process, without which asylum seekers can be denied the protection they need. It is also one of the most pressing issues currently facing our clients at Suffolk Refugee Support.
Unfortunately, Suffolk has become something of a legal aid ‘desert’. In recent years, various firms have ceased to operate offices or outreach services in Ipswich, leaving us with no local provision.
Last year the Legal Aid Agency decided not to offer any immigration legal aid contracts for Norfolk, Suffolk or Essex. This comes on top of new legislation, which has taken nearly all immigration work, bar asylum cases, out of the scope of legal aid. For example, a claim made under Article 8 of the ECHR (right to a family/private life) can no longer be legal aid funded.
Compounding matters is the withdrawal of two firms in Cambridge that we have used in the past, leaving the (very welcome) services of Fisher Jones Greenwood in Colchester and Chelmsford – using their London legal aid contract – as the only provision in our area. As a result, we are forced sometimes to refer clients to London or Birmingham for legal representation, and to meet the resultant travel costs from our destitution fund.
We believe the way in which the Legal Aid Agency allocated contracts is based on an incomplete picture of the eastern region, with the spare capacity of firms in the west (e.g. Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire) used to justify lack of provision in the east. We are working with EELGA (East of England Local Government Association) and partner agencies to tackle this gap in provision through advocacy, the facilitation of legal outreach services and better data collection.
To donate to Suffolk Refugee Support’s destitution fund, visit our donations page.