Source: The Children’s Society Date: 17 August 2017
Unaccompanied and migrant children
The Children’s Society in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire has published a report looking at the impact of excluding separated and migrant children from legal aid. The report finds that the safety net Emergency Case Funding is not working, stating that there is ‘too much discrimination in the ‘system’:
There is too much discrimination built into the system and not all unaccompanied and separated migrant children in local authority care, care leavers, or even those supported under Section 17 of the Children Act (1989), have equal opportunities to access the legal advice and representation they need. In many ways, there are no significant surprises or shifts in the findings since our last report. Importantly, however, the context of these findings is new. The post-LASPO environment is no longer new and the responses of local authorities cannot simply be explained as transitional.
It concludes with the following recommendations to government:
Recommendation 1: The Government should reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children in matters of immigration by bringing it back within ‘scope’ under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
Recommendation 2: If Recommendation 1 is not ful lled, the Government must provide a full timeline and complete its intended ve year review of LASPO, with appropriate consultation of stakeholders that support unaccompanied and separated children in immigration proceedings. As part of this review, the ECF system must be examined for its suitability in providing access to justice for children. The Government should fully consider recommendations made about improving access to justice for this cohort and implement them.
Recommendation 3: The Government should formalise the role of local authorities in relation to immigration advice for separated children given the ambiguity that exists around whether a local authority is under any obligation to secure legal services for separated or unaccompanied children that it is either ‘looking after’ or ‘assisting.’
Recommendation 4: If Recommendation 1 is not ful lled, social workers and independent reviewing o cers should be trained in the identi cation of children that are out of scope and how to best support their legal needs within this new and complex territory.
Recommendation 5: All children suspected of being tra cked, whether they have been referred into the National Referral Mechanism or not, should have access to legal aid either by being brought within ‘scope’ under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of O enders Act 2012 or by clear exceptional funding guidance.
Recommendation 6: Until legal aid is fully reinstated for children in immigration cases, local authorities should develop written policies that o er clarity to their social workers, and the children they support, on their decision making process in relation to securing immigration advice for children.
Recommendation 7: Outreach work should be undertaken in schools and colleges to inform children and young people about immigration and the law, routes to regularisation and their importance.
Recommendation 8: The Government should commission external independent research into the existing capacity and number of practitioners available with specialist expertise in children’s immigration law cases.
Recommendation 9: The Government should waive application fees and the costly immigration health surcharge for unaccompanied and separated migrant children and young people (up to the age of 25) in their immigration applications.
Read the full report at source: Cut off from Justice: the impact of excluding separated and migrant children from legal aid (PDF)