Clause 22 - Civil legal services for recipients of priority removal notices

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 26 Hydref 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:00, 26 Hydref 2021

Clause 22 provides for up to—but no more than—seven hours of legal aid to be available to those served with a priority removal notice, enabling them to receive advice on their immigration status and removal. This provision is necessary due to the new priority removal notices regime introduced in part 2 of the Bill, and while we welcome the introduction of the legal aid requirement in the Bill, it does not go far enough. Seven hours is not enough time for a legal representative to take instructions from, advise and represent individuals who are often among the most vulnerable people in society.

The Government’s one-stop approach to asylum claims means that there is a significant risk of claimants being unable to obtain legal advice properly despite the provisions set out in the clause, because they have not been given enough time to develop a relationship of trust with their legal advisers and the legal authorities. We know about the difficulties many asylum seekers—for example, those who are victims of torture, sexual gender-based violence, or trafficking—face in disclosing evidence, and the time constraints imposed by clause 22 will likely negatively impact people who have difficulty disclosing information related to their claim due to an initial lack of trust in the advisers or authorities.

More widely, organisations in the sector have rightly made the connection between the Government’s offer of legal aid to the recipients of PRNs in this clause and the broader cuts to legal aid in the immigration sector that have become the hallmark of the Government’s time in office. According to Bail for Immigration Detainees,

“This meagre provision comes after the gradual decimation of the legal aid immigration sector since the legal aid cuts in 2013”,

and the clause

“will not be a sufficient safeguard to ensure access to justice”.

It is, of course, essential that people who need legal advice can access that advice in practice, and support must be provided for those who need help navigating the system. In many instances, asylum seekers are highly vulnerable, and may experience difficulties when it comes to the legal intricacies of the asylum process, such as studying legal determinations or preparing submissions for appeals. It is equally clear that the wider proposals in part 2 of the Bill will not achieve the Home Office’s aim of creating an immigration system that is fairer and more efficient. As we know from reading the Bill, clause 22 comes alongside a set of sweeping legislative changes that, for example, limit access to appeals, speed up the removal process and penalise late submissions of relevant evidence. These measures can hardly be described as fair, and they fail to make the system more efficient.

We must take the proposals about legal aid in clause 22 in conjunction with other clauses in part 2 that seek to fast-track asylum claims and appeals, and make conditions harder for asylum seekers and refugees here in the UK. When implemented together and in strict draconian fashion, the Bill’s provisions therefore inhibit access to justice, risk inherent unfairness, are contrary to the common law and violate procedural requirements. Most importantly, they may give rise to a significant risk of refoulement, which would violate the UK’s internal obligations.

While we welcome the introduction of legal aid, we do not believe that the clause goes far enough: we believe that much more should be done to provide more legal aid, particularly in relation to the immigration sector.