Barrister publishes hard-hitting research on failings in immigration and asylum legal aid
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Marc Bloomfield
New research, published yesterday (12 June 2019), lifts the lid on the scandalously low quality of legal aid services provided to many immigration and asylum clients.
In her report, Droughts and deserts. A report on the immigration legal aid market, Garden Court Chambers barrister Jo Wilding says there are ‘many excellent practitioners and organisations doing immigration and asylum legal aid work’, but she believes that ‘existing systems of funding, contracting and auditing’ have perversely led to a situation in which poorer-quality providers are protected (page 1). These providers, she argues, also create demand for advice by mishandling cases, which subsequently require what she refers to as ‘rescue’ work from other lawyers.
Wilding believes that, due to the low standard fees, good-quality legal aid providers are forced to cross-subsidise legal aid with private work, or, in the case of not-for-profit agencies, grant funding. This leads to them putting a limit on the work they will take on. There is also a tendency for such suppliers to specialise in complex hourly fee-paying work, which is not without risk as there are delays or failures in payment associated with such cases.
In common with other areas of law covered by the legal aid scheme,1See, for example, June 2019 Legal Action 4. Wilding’s report documents the advice deserts that exist across the country where there is little or no provision for immigration and asylum legal aid services (mapped on page 9 of the report). She also identifies the phenomenon of ‘advice droughts’, areas in which there are suppliers, but they do not have the capacity to take on new cases.
The report contains recommendations including:
increasing the minimum peer review score required to undertake the work, along with raising fees;
making it easier for clients to transfer their file if they are dissatisfied; and
conducting exit interviews with the firms and organisations that leave the market.
‘Jo Wilding’s work deserves considerable praise,’ said LAG director Carol Storer. ‘It’s clear from the report that some of the most vulnerable clients, with the poorest chance of redress for shoddy work, are often not receiving the good-quality legal assistance they need. The Legal Aid Agency and government need respond quickly to this address this.’
 
1     See, for example, June 2019 Legal Action 4. »

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