Guidance notes: Local authorities supporting children after the cuts to legal aid

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This guidance note, by Coram Children’s Legal Centre and the NRPF Network, looks at the duties and responsibilities of local authorities to support children in care, care-leavers and families with access to legal advice, in light of cuts to legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

It covers:

  • The changes to legal aid introduced in 2013, including what is in and out of scope
  • What if a child or care leaver supported by the local authority cannot get legal aid?
  • What if the family or care leaver is caught by Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2003?

It also outlines the following Key Considerations for local authorities when deciding how to support an individual who needs legal advice:

  • Is all or part of the case likely to be eligible for legal aid (e.g. because there is a protection claim) and has legal advice been sought to ascertain this, if necessary from a number of different legal aid providers?
  • Is free immigration legal advice and representation available, e.g. from a law centre or other voluntary sector initiative? Is it sufficient?
  • Does the case involve human rights issues (such as Article 8 ECHR right to respect for private and family life) that the client is unlikely to be able to adequately present on their own?
  • Local authority decisions should not be arbitrary – have a clear and fair policy worked out.
  • Immigration legal services are independent – the lawyer will work in the best interests of the client and it will be the client who is instructing them, not the local authority; communication between the lawyer and client is confidential. Although the local authority can write to the solicitor, they should beware any conflict of interest.
  • The local authority should act in accordance with its legal duties to children, including under the Children Act 1989, the Children Act 2004 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A child’s best interests must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them. The local authority will need to base any assessment of the merits of an immigration case on an informed legal opinion.

Guidance Note: Local authorities supporting children after the cuts to legal aid, Coram Children’s Legal Centre & NRPF Network, 2013