Legal aid extended to vulnerable migrant children
Marc Bloomfield
Legislation expanding the scope of legal aid to cover vulnerable migrant children came into force on 25 October 2019.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Legal Aid for Separated Children) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019 SI No 1396 allows migrant children separated from their parents to receive advice and representation in non-asylum immigration and citizenship cases. These cases had been excluded from scope following LASPO. Post LASPO, legal aid could only be obtained in such cases by applying under the controversial exceptional case funding scheme.
Earlier this year, the government had undertaken to bring back legal aid to assist unaccompanied and separated migrant children (see September 2019 Legal Action 4).
Justice minister Wendy Morton MP said that the move was ‘a positive step to make sure we are offering the right support and protection to some of the most vulnerable in our society’ (‘Separated migrant children given better access to legal aid’, Ministry of Justice/Legal Aid Agency press release, 25 October 2019). Mark Russell, CEO of the Children’s Society (CS), said it was ‘delighted the government has acted on their promise to ensure separated and unaccompanied children can resolve immigration issues and secure their citizenship, without the stress of applying for exceptional case funding, or trying to navigate complex human rights law all alone’.
The CS was among the groups that campaigned for the change. The charity brought successful judicial review proceedings against the government on the issue and in a report published two years ago, it estimated that, due to the LASPO cut, 2,490 children had lost entitlement to legal aid (Helen Connolly, Richard Crellin and Rupinder Parhar, An update to: Cut off from justice – the impact of excluding separated and migrant children from legal aid, CS/University of Bedfordshire, August 2017, page 16).

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A national, independent charity, promoting equal access to justice for all members of society who are socially, economically or otherwise...