Warning on legal-aid reform

14 June 2013

PA

Seasoned campaigner: the human rights activist Bianca Jagger addresses the "Save Justice" protest against Legal Aid cuts, outside the Ministry of Justice, last week

Seasoned campaigner: the human rights activist Bianca Jagger addresses the "Save Justice" protest against Legal Aid cuts, ou...

THE Government's proposed changes to legal aid will have "serious" consequences for victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable people, the Mission and Public Affairs Division of the Archbishops' Council has warned.

The Division delivered a submission, on 31 May, to the Ministry of Justice consultation, Transforming Legal Aid, which proposes that legal aid should be provided only for those who have been resident in the UK for at least 12 months.

The submission states: "Our concern is that good legal advice and advocacy should be readily available to all who need it, especially those whose vulnerability places an obligation on society to ensure that they are not defenceless against unjust treatment by any person, organisation, or agent of government."

It says that the 12-month residency requirement would have "serious" consequences for "victims of human trafficking, and those who have come to this country with a partner, whose relationship then breaks down because they are victims of domestic violence". It reminds the Government of its obligations, under a European directive, to give trafficking victims "access without delay to . . . legal representation".

The submission also questions the proposal that asylum-seekers should be denied access to legal aid until 12 months after they have been granted asylum. Such a proposal "appears to contravene Article 16 of the [United Nations] Refugee Convention", which says that a refugee should be treated in the same way "as a national in matters pertaining to access to the courts, including legal assistance".

Those held in immigration detention centres will also suffer under the proposals, the Division warns, because they "will almost always not meet the residence test. This will hinder them, for example, in bringing legal challenge against their continued detention."

"Rules split families." A report published on Monday by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration says that new rules for migrants from outside the EU are splitting up families and causing "anguish".

The Goup conducted an inquiry into the minimum-earnings requirements, which came into force in July last year. The requirements mean that a British citizen must earn at least £18,600 a year to sponsor the visa of his or her non-EU resident spouse. This rises to £22,400 for families with one child, and increases by £2400 for each additional child.

Baroness Hamwee, who chaired the Inquiry, said that the rules were "causing anguish for families".

The C of E submission on legal aid can be read here.

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