Eligible legal aid clients left without local representation – one reason we’re taking part in the Brighton Legal Walk

judith
Judith Townend

You might think that those asylum seekers and immigrants who qualify for state-funded legal advice and representation, following cuts to the scope of legal aid in 2013, are the lucky ones.

But even where legal aid is still available for asylum applications and some other cases, such as those involving domestic violence and victims of trafficking, clients face difficulties in securing representation.

In Brighton and Hove, for example, there is now only one organisation offering legal aid funded representation in asylum cases – Brighton Housing Trust. The only other firm in the city holding a legal aid contract for immigration and asylum services has recently decided it will no longer continue state funded work in this area.

It has left those adults entitled to legal aid with limited local representation, as owing to stretched resources and the high number of child asylum seekers, Brighton Housing Trust is currently prioritising cases involving children.

As Catherine Brown, caseworker at the charity Brighton Voices in Exile explains: ‘We currently have no legal representation for our destitute clients who are entitled to legal aid – both those who are facing appeals with short notice and those who are in the early stages of their asylum claim.’ BVIE are trying to secure legal aid representation out of the area, without success.

According to Brown: ‘Without representation at appeal their chances of a successful outcome are clearly diminished.’

Earlier this year the University of Sussex Clinical Legal Education programme facilitated a meeting of stakeholders at Brighton Town Hall to assess local immigration and asylum needs. The startling revelation that adults eligible for legal aid may not be able to access it locally was one of the many concerns that came to light.

It’s clear, from talking to local communities and individuals in need of legal support, that there’s a local crisis in immigration advice and representation.

A law clinic may only provide a ‘sticking plaster’ as one attendee described it. It’s true that the local and national crisis cannot be solved with the development of a student law clinic.

Nonetheless, a sticking plaster is better than no assistance at all, and we believe it’s important that a range of law clinics support local needs, however they can, while contributing to a broader debate on national legal funding and services.

It’s our hope that by securing relevant practitioner support and the necessary financial assistance we will be able to develop a service in this area.

This is just one reason that colleagues at the University of Sussex School of Law will be walking with a range of legal organisations on 26th June 2017 to raise funds and awareness of legal needs in East and West Sussex.

  • You can support us by donating at this page here
  • More about Sussex Clinical Legal Education here
  • Find out more about Sussex Law School at the Sussex Community Festival on 25th June 2017
  • If you have concerns about local legal provision in this area, or can offer assistance to a student law clinic, please contact the project lead: Professor Nuno Ferreira

Judith Townend is a lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex and a volunteer with Sanctuary on Sea and the Brighton Syrian community group. This post first appeared on the Justice Gap blog and on the Brighton & Hove News website.  

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