This web page is an introduction and does not cover all the issues. For more detailed information and legal guidance, download the full fact sheet at the side and bottom of this page. This web page is correct as of 5 November 2019.
This page provides information on finding a legal representative for migrant and refugee children in England and Wales. See also our information on legal aid and exceptional case funding.
When does a child need a solicitor?
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
An unaccompanied child seeking asylum will need a legal representative to assist them to make their case for asylum to the Home Office. Under the UK Immigration Rules the Home Office is required to ensure that a child has legal representation and it is recommended that this be done before applying for asylum. If the child does not have suitable legal representation, the Home Office must notify the Refugee Children’s Panel, who will try to find representation for the child.
Migrant children in care
Looked after children with an immigration or nationality (citizenship) issue were brought fully back into scope of legal aid in October 2019. It will take some time for legal aid providers to be made fully away of this change in eligibility – support workers seeking to refer a separated child for immigration or nationality legal aid should send providers this update from the Legal Aid Agency to make them aware of the change.
It is crucial that children in care receive immigration advice as a matter of priority and that this is considered in any care plan, assessment or pathway plan as a matter of urgency. Children in care are fee-exempt for immigration (but not citizenship) applications only until they turn 18. Some application routes close to children when they turn 18. As such, advice and legal representation should be sought as soon as possible. Obtaining this advice in time is vital to ensure that the child’s best interests are met. Securing legal representation for children and care leavers with immigration claims is not secondary or optional for local authorities: it is critically important to promoting the welfare of the child or young person and forms part of their duties.
Community care matters
Community care law is used to challenge local authority decisions which relate to support for a child, including where a child is age disputed, to challenge the educational provision for a separated child, or if services are changed or terminated (such as when a young person is leaving care). It is important that children are informed about their right to challenge decisions which affect them and that the child is assisted to obtain representation from a community care lawyer.
A child may also need legal advice or representation for criminal law, education law, nationality law or family law matters among others.
Finding legal representation
Finding good quality, local legal representation for a child can be a real challenge.
With the child or young person’s consent, you should call the firm and ask whether they can take the case on, providing clear information about the case. It is important to explain the stage at which the case is: for example if the child or young person is appeal rights exhausted and requires advice on making a fresh asylum or human rights claim, for example. It is also important to have information about any previous legal representatives who have worked on the case and the reasons why they are no longer doing so.
Useful resources for finding a lawyer
If you are searching for a legal representative, the following may be useful:
- The Law Society has a directory of all solicitors, which can be searched by area of law. This search will also tell you if the law firm has any accreditations and the names of qualified solicitors at the company.
- The Ministry of Justice provide a search engine to find legal aid representatives. This list only includes firms or organisations that hold contracts for legal aid work with the Legal Aid Agency. Most firms that conduct legal aid work will also provide legal services for a fee where there is no legal aid available.
- The Law Centres Network has information about local law centres and the services they provide. In general, law centres will only be able to give advice and representation to local residents.
- The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association also has a directory of members and search engine to find nearby immigration advisers.
Making a complaint
Where a child is not satisfied with the service that has been provided to them, there are steps that can be taken to resolve this with the legal adviser. A child should be given information on how to complain by their legal adviser following the first appointment. The firm will have a complaints procedure that should be clear and accessible. A complaint should first be made to the representative unless there is a clear reason not to do so (for example assault). The representative will then inform the complaints partner in the organisation. The law firm or organisation deals with the complaint in the first instance, and they should respond within two working days to acknowledge the complaint.
If the complaint cannot be resolved satisfactorily, then a further complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman, an independent scheme that resolves complaints about lawyers, or to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) in relation to immigration advice. The complaint should contain as much detail as possible, including the main issues involved and what steps were taken to resolve these issues. The time limit to make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman is six months from the final response by the legal adviser, and 12 months to make a complaint to OISC.
If the client is paying privately and instructing an immigration adviser, they are normally able to change solicitors at any time and for any reason. A legal adviser may only end the relationship with the client if there is a good reason and after giving reasonable notice. Examples of good reasons include where there is a breakdown in confidence with the client, and where they are unable to obtain proper instructions.
Legal aid solicitors
Legal aid firms have to follow certain guidelines relating to taking on clients who have instructed another legal aid firm within the last six months. In general, legal aid can only be transferred where:
- the client has reasonable cause to be dissatisfied with the service they received
- the client has moved a distance away from the first firm and communication is difficult
- the first firm can no longer act for the client because of a breakdown of the relationship or a conflict of interest.
It can be hard in practice to change to a different solicitor or law firm within a six-month period. On top of this, the process of transferring legal aid can be slow, and it is very likely that evidence will be needed to show that the child continues to be looked after and accommodated.
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Download the full fact sheet