Last week I challenged Justice Minister Lucy Frazer on legal aid for asylum seekers. Government cuts have made it increasingly difficult for them to access this assistance, even though they often come to the UK with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Better access to legal aid would be fairer for everyone. If asylum seekers are indeed fleeing war and persecution, they need legal advice to help them gain refugee status. And if they don’t have a justifiable asylum claim, good legal advice would prevent these cases going any further. For this reason, better legal advice would help clear the growing backlog of asylum cases, where people are left in a legal limbo, unable to work or participate in society for years in some cases.
Unfortunately, the Minister completely missed the point. While some parts of the asylum system do qualify for legal aid, as she states, the system needs to apply to all asylum seekers to be truly effective.
THANGAM: Investing in high quality legal advice for asylum seekers, at an early stage, is critical if we’re not going to waste subsequent large amounts of public money, supporting failed asylum seekers, who perhaps don’t have a case but have been misadvised.
What can the minister do to reassure me that all asylum seekers will get the highest quality advice, through Legal Aid, at the earliest stage?
MINISTER: I think it’s important to highlight two things. One is that the government spends about £100 million on early advice. The second thing is that there is a misconception about what is, and what is not, eligible for Legal Aid. In fact there is Legal Aid available for asylum work, as well as non-asylum work, including detention, SIAC, domestic violence and trafficking.