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The House of Commons Justice Committee is conducting an Inquiry:  into the Future of Legal Aid . They are accepting submissions of evidence until 19 October.   The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) removed legal aid for refugee family reunion and the results for refugee families have been devastating.  Since LASPO’s implementation, vulnerable refugees living in England and Wales no longer have access to publicly funded legal support as a matter of course when applying to be reunited with their separated family members. Because most refugees already struggle to meet their basic day-to-day needs, many suffer extreme hardship to pay for legal help, or try to submit the complicated refugee family reunion application on their own or seek alternative, limited opportunities for help from charities and pro bono lawyers, which is not always available.  The result is that parents can spend years waiting to be reunited with their children.

City of Sanctuary is a member of Families Together Coalition. If your group is planning to submit evidence on a range of legal aid issues, thenplease include legal aid for refugee family reunion in your submission.  We have pasted pasted a couple of paragraphs below provided by the Families Together Coalition from the latest FT parliamentary briefing, to draw up on and in case they are helpful.   For any other questions, contact Campaign Coordinator – Families Together Coalition at Amnesty International UK.

“Since 2012, refugee family reunion cases have not been eligible for legal aid. The Ministry of Justice explained the decision was taken to remove refugee family reunion from the scope of legal aid because it was viewed as a ‘straightforward’ immigration matter.  In the experience of many families seeking to reunite, the process is not straightforward. For those refugees who do qualify for family reunion, the process is long and complicated.  The report by the British Red Cross, ‘Not So Straightforward’[1], sets out many bureaucratic and practical barriers faced by families.  Complexities include cases where the family are unable to obtain the required ID or evidence due to security reasons and resort to expensive DNA tests or those involving adoption and de facto adoption. Such cases require legal advice in determining the eligibility of applications, support in gathering documentation, and reference to precedent and existing policy and guidance.

We welcome changes made by the Home Office to simplify the online form and submission process but there still remain many barriers including the requirement to attend Visa Application Centres which often involves family members taking dangerous journeys at least twice to submit and collect a decision.  Since legal aid was removed for refugee family reunion, refugees must navigate complex legal processes and immigration rules whilst enduring prolonged separation from their families.  This can cause multiple harms, including isolation, emotional distress and lack of confidence, as well as constitute a practical barrier to integration. Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) has been available for family reunion cases.  However the rates applicable under ECF are far too low for the work involved.  The British Red Cross has found that many law firms are unwilling to take on these cases for the minimal fee of £234 for the entire case.  The Families Together coalition believes that the UK government should reintroduce legal aid for all refugee family reunion cases.”