Half of all detained migrants in Britain have no lawyer due to legal aid cuts

Half of all detained migrants in Britain have no lawyer due to legal aid cuts
Thousands of migrants held in Britain’s detention centers currently have no legal representation. Many have been incarcerated for more than a year solely because of their immigration status, a new report reveals.

Only half of those currently being held in centers such as Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth have the ability to challenge their detention and deportations, as they are unable to see a lawyer or get advice from legal professionals due to cuts in legal aid. According to the Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) report, the number of those supported by legal aid services was close to 80 percent.

Around 30,000 people have ended up in immigration detention centers in Britain in this year alone. Government officials have identified up to 260 as long-term detained, meaning they have been held for more than a year. The figure does not include migrants in prisons or other types of detention centers due to immigration laws, and campaigners believe the numbers could by far higher.

Legal aid subsidies that help migrants gain access to legal representation have been under government attack since 2013. Around £1.7 billion of the criminal and civil legal aid budgets for England and Wales has been cut.

Eligibility for legal subsidies has also been restricted over the last few years, with “residence tests” now required of anyone applying for non-criminal legal aid. Experts have warned that vulnerable people, including women and children suffering domestic abuse, are most likely to suffer from these changes.

“The situation described by detainees underlines the bleak situation that people being held in immigration detention face,” [which is] made pointlessly and unjustly worse by the Government’s ill-conceived cuts to legal aid,” BID policy and research manager John Hopgood said.

“Around half of the 30,000 people who are detained every year are released without being deported. They face being separated from their families and locked up often without proper explanation: a scary and frustrating experience.

“That so many people are forced to go through that without access to the legal help they need is unacceptable – and at odds with the British value of the rule of law. The only way to right this wrong is to ensure that legal aid is automatically available to the people who need it the most,” he said.

BID’s survey also found that one in five of the detainees they spoke to had never seen a legal representative while in detention, and of those who had, nearly 60 percent had relied on legal aid. To make matters worse, some reported that they had been barred from accessing websites that could help them with their immigration case.