Tuesday, June 08, 2010
STAR is concerned that thousands of asylum seekers will not be able to access legal advice if the legal charity Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) closes down.
Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) is facing possible closure because of bureaucratic rules that result in the Government not paying promptly for asylum and immigration legal work.
No charity can be expected to wait many months, even years for payment. RMJ is not asking for extra money, just for the Legal Services Commission to pay the money it owes.
Why does it matter?
If RMJ is forced to close, more than 10,000 asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants will be left without legal assistance. That includes almost 900 children as well as victims of trafficking, torture and armed conflict.
Lives will be put at risk and there are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice – which, sadly, are already common on asylum.
Letter to Secretary of State
Emma Williams, STAR’s Chief Executive, has written to the Secretary of State on behalf of all STAR members about the situation.
Here is the text of the letter:
Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke, QC, MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 0AL
8 June 2010
Dear Secretary of State
Refugee and Migrant Justice and Asylum Legal Aid
I write regarding the imminent closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice due to the lack of payment for “work in progress” for their asylum legal work. I represent over 4,000 British university students and on their behalf ask that you support access to legal advice for asylum seekers whose cases are currently being dealt with by Refugee and Migrant Justice. We request that you protect the charity from closure by paying the legal aid funds owing.
Refugee and Migrant Justice are not the only body facing this difficulty and I ask you therefore to look again at the legal aid payment system for asylum work. This is vital to ensure vulnerable people, many of whom are victims of torture and atrocity, can exercise their legal right to seek asylum in the UK. The payment problem has been raised with you for some time by many agencies including The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. One justification was that UK Border Agency would make initial decisions on asylum cases within six months, so the legal work would be done within this time and payments would be made within months of the work starting. The six month completion date has been cited as the solution to a number of difficulties in the asylum system. However, as you are aware, making fair decisions on asylum claims almost always takes longer than six months, so it is not a reasonable time frame on which to base your plans.
The Legal Services Commission has not saved money by abolishing staged billing, it has simply delayed payment. Indeed, if Refugee and Migrant Justice are forced to close, then the Legal Services Commission will be obliged to pay up all the money immediately while losing the charity’s huge institutional expertise. This will doubtless cause further delay in the asylum system as cases are transferred to new advisors and cause further misery for already vulnerable people who have fled horror in their home countries.
Posted by STAR team on 08/06/2010 at 03:31 PM