CCLC welcomes automatic legal aid eligibility for separated children with immigration or nationality issues

Over a year after the policy change was announced, CCLC welcomes the formal reintroduction of legal aid for immigration and nationality law for unaccompanied and separated children in care.

Since the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), CCLC has highlighted the negative impact of the removal of legal aid for immigration cases on children, including separated children in local authority care. Without access to legal help and representation children struggle to advocate effectively for their rights, leaving them at risk of being cut off from education, healthcare, support, and even facing deportation to another country.

Separated children in the care of local authorities are particularly vulnerable.  The laws, processes and systems governing their circumstances are complex and while social workers have a duty to plan for the long-term future of a child in their care, they are rightly prohibited from assisting children in making immigration applications because immigration advice is very complex and heavily regulated.

In our 2018 report, ‘Rights without Remedies’, we highlighted that several thousand children in local authority care need immigration advice and representation and that the restoration of legal aid for all migrant children in care would result in at least an estimated £4 million annual saving from local authority budgets. Our Migrant Children’s Project’s advice casework formed the basis of a witness statement to a judicial review (brought by Islington Law Centre and the Children’s Society) of the cuts to legal aid for this group.

Legal aid for immigration and nationality cases 

The amendment to LASPO has now been brought into force. It makes provision for separated migrant children to be eligible for legal aid for civil legal services in relation to immigration applications for entry clearance, leave to enter, or to remain in, the United Kingdom, and applications for registration as a British citizen or British subject.

This includes applications to the EU settlement scheme and applications to register children as British citizens. With the roll out of the EU settlement scheme, we have raised concerns about the status of European national children in care many of whom might need legal advice at the earliest opportunity. This change should go some way to ensuring that vulnerable children do not fall through the gaps.

The Legal Aid Agency has provided a statement for legal aid providers and guidance for providers on the transitional arrangements in place from 25 October 2019.

Future challenges

We will now work with the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and local authorities to ensure that all practitioners know about this change, and crucially that steps are taken to identify children with unresolved immigration issues and ensure they can access free quality legal representation. It is also essential that the government fulfils its commitment to allow care-leavers to easily access legal aid through the Exceptional Case Funding scheme. No child or young person should be left without access to justice.

Rosalyn Akar Grams, CCLC’s Head of Legal Practice, said:

We welcome the passing of the statutory instrument today bringing this important amendment to LASPO, so that immigration and nationality matters for unaccompanied and separated children rightly come back into scope for legal aid.  This is a vital step in ensuring vulnerable children are able to obtain legal advice and representation and secure access to justice. However, we hope that the Ministry of Justice will continue to consider the wider impact of LASPO on all children and young people, and work to remove the obstacles that children and young people face in making their rights a reality across many other areas of law.

Read the Legal Aid Agency press release and update for legal aid providers.

Rights without remedies: legal aid and access to justice for children and the executive summary are available here.