Just when you thought it was all over – the Government announced more plans to slash legal aid in a new consultation “Transforming Legal Aid”.
We reported on the plans to change legal aid that would take place in April here:
Now the Government wants to restrict access to justice even further. One of the main targets is criminal legal aid. But migrants are also in the firing line.
The Government wants to bring in a two step “residence test” to determine eligibility for free help. You will need to show lawful residence at the point that you apply for legal aid AND that you have had 12 months of continuous lawful residence in the UK at some point before your application. Individuals making an initial asylum claim are exempt from this provision but not those who claims have been refused. So all ASSIST clients would be caught out because a refused asylum seeker is no longer in the UK lawfully. They would only be able to get legal aid once they had made a fresh claim.
ASSIST was set up to provide “short term” welfare payments and accommodation to asylum seekers who are destitute but under these proposals we may help fewer people as each will need us for longer. ASSIST clients need initial advice on how to make a fresh claim and then support to put it in. Once you submit a fresh claim there is not much an adviser can do, apart from add further evidence or advise you on the outcome. What people really need is specialist help to prepare their applications in the first place. If you put in a fresh claim you are once again eligible for Home Office subsistence support. If you cannot progress a claim you will not make this transition.
These proposals discriminate disproportionately against people who are not British and who are from minority ethnic backgrounds. They also have the potential to keep asylum seekers in destitution and place an even greater burden on limited charity funds.
Read more about the residence test here:
Here is a quick summary of the changes in full:
The Government’s consultation has now closed (on 4 June 2013). They will report back in autumn and aim to introduce changes next year.
But the campaign still needs you!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you care about people getting free help when they need it most, or if you might want it yourself one day – take action now. Legal aid needs you. Save it while you still can.
Top ways that you can help:
*Write to your MP – tell them why legal aid matters.
Here is a draft letter and how to get contact details for your MP: http://www.savelegalaid.co.uk/takeaction
*Sign the petition – if they get enough signatures there will be a debate in Parliament! We need at least 100,000.
*Share your story about how legal aid has helped you or someone you know to change the minds of decision makers. Email us and we can pass it on: efa [at] assistsheffield.org.uk
I WANT TO KNOW & DO MORE….
Read some amazing stories about how legal aid helps people – and share your own!
Read this briefing note by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association:
Submit evidence to a special commission set up to assess the actual & expected impact of changes to legal aid – the deadline was end of May 2013 but you could still send in your views:
More links and resources:
Some recent articles:
Lastly, please tell your friends – pass it on!