Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) released its research paper this February which assesses the current state of quality and accessibility of legal advice for those held under immigration powers in UK detention centres. This article has been written by Olivia Bridge.
The 20-page document concludes an exasperating lack of legal representation for those considered to be among the most vulnerable in the UK. The report reveals such an astounding indifference among lawyers to those detained that the entire process appears to be emboldened by the Home Office’s systematic ‘hostile environment’ regime that sees immigrants and asylum-seekers as second-class citizens.
The physical conditions of the removal centres – and the negligence intertwined with abuse by its staff – is an entirely different matter for those shunted through the UK’s immigration system. BID’s latest report opens up a new can of worms for the department as it demonstrates many are left starved entirely from legal representation and those who do have access receive substandard advice. Detainees even become vulnerable to unscrupulous solicitors looking to profit out of their precarious situation.
BID found 59 per cent of 90 respondents currently have access to an immigration solicitor, 68 per cent of which are funded by Legal Aid. Although BID claims that these results are similar to its 2019 Spring Survey and demonstrate an improvement when compared to previous studies, the level of legal representation is now considered worse when compared to four other surveys that were carried out two years before the Home Office slashed the legal aid budget in 2013.
BID’s latest report opens up a new can of worms for the department as it demonstrates many are left starved entirely from legal representation and those who do have access receive substandard advice
However, the remainder of the survey paints a very bleak image of a widespread failure in the system from head-to-toe.
Just over half (52.8 per cent) who had access to a solicitor claimed that bail was never even considered on their behalf, suggesting to the BID that “some DDA (Detention Duty Advice) lawyers do not understand the bail process” whatsoever. This is particularly concerning to BID as detention can become a “harmful experience” for those inside, and solicitors should be going above and beyond to minimise their client’s exposure by making bail applications “as a matter of urgency”.
However, respondents claimed that they were stifled from bail opportunities with reasons varying from address related issues to lawyers inflicting a fee – the latter of which is a serious cause for concern since solicitors should know at a bare minimum not to bill a client who clearly can’t afford the fee when they are in receipt of Legal Aid.
Solicitors should know at a bare minimum not to bill a client who clearly can’t afford the fee when they are in receipt of Legal Aid
Long waiting times are further jeopardising migrants’ case. Appeals are scheduled in a strict turnaround of 14 days while the Home Office’s ‘Removal Notice Window’ policy grants detainees a debilitating 72-hour ‘pause’ from removal. After this minuscule opportunity ends, detainees are liable to deportation at any given moment.
Evidently, this makes preventing removal and launching appeals significantly difficult: lawyers must be vigilant in gathering evidence and challenging the Home Office at a moment’s notice – as was demonstrated last week when a handful of those scheduled to be deported to Jamaica were spared the ordeal in the 11th hour.
However, despite the pressing urgency of the matter since many held in removal centres can be deported into slavery, torture, trafficking, abuse and even death on the other side, a mere 6 out of 60 detainees interviewed by BID said they were in receipt of an appointment within the 72-hour period while the majority of the remainder were waiting over a week to meet their legal aid representative.
Detainees even become vulnerable to unscrupulous solicitors looking to profit out of their precarious situation
Appointments being delayed by a week may be exemplary of a strained system under pressure; yet consider the anxious-long wait these vulnerable people must endure, whose fates are more likely to end in deportation the longer the clock ticks on – and then when they finally do receive professional advice, it is delivered in lighting speed.
Detention and bail solicitors are expected to schedule a 30-minute slot with each potential client, which is already tight as lawyers need to read through the case, assess its merits, make a decision about taking the client on, give advice on next steps and even provide written feedback. Throw the need for a translator into the mix and this exercise presents a very clear challenge to those looking to deliver even the most basic of services within half an hour.
Despite this, UK immigration bail lawyers are racing through cases to the envy of most fast food joints, delivering a service in a gobsmacking 5 minutes or less according to 13 of 34 respondents. 74 per cent told BID that their meeting was over within 20 minutes. Just short of half additionally expressed that the advice they received was either unhelpful or outright ‘bad’.
It’s nothing short of criminal how they treat those less fortunate
Alarmingly, BID further found a series of cases where solicitors inflicted charges onto detainees as they attempted to persuade their clients to pay privately to work on their case, despite the prevalence of Legal Aid being granted to those who are often financially destitute. Even so, being held in a detention centre with no job, being far from home, family or friends makes sourcing monetary funds an almost impossible task.
One detainee said: “They don’t care about you, they just want your signature to get your money. One didn’t care, another one tried to take it privately. Another one got my signature and didn’t respond to me at all after I repeatedly contacted him.”
Consider the anxious-long wait these vulnerable people must endure, whose fates are more likely to end in deportation the longer the clock ticks on – and then when they finally do receive professional advice, it is delivered in lighting speed
Another detainee detailed a 10-minute appointment in which the lawyer asked for £3,000 “under the table” with a false and misleading “guarantee to get the client out.”
Others describe meetings of 3 to 5 minutes long where lawyers are not even looking at paperwork, are refusing to take on the case unless cash is paid and one even telling the client to “do it yourself” unless he found the money to pay for the service.
As the ‘need’ for detention capacity grows, more and more failed asylum seekers are placed in UK prisons – where again they are stifled from accessing legal representation which is aggravated by a lack of mobile phones and internet service.
BID notes that a system “in which the odds are stacked against them at every stage”, heightens the importance for people in detention to “access justice through the courts” – especially since “flawed” Home Office decisions often sees innocent migrants swept up through the system. Indeed, the Government had to cough up £8.2 million in compensation to those unlawfully detained last year.
UK immigration bail lawyers are racing through cases to the envy of most fast food joints, delivering a service in a gobsmacking 5 minutes or less
If the UK is serious about upholding the pillars of civil democracy and law, these barriers hiked up for the most vulnerable in modern society rears a very ugly spotlight onto the entire UK justice system. While some argue that detention should cease entirely in civil society – including BID themselves – the very least the Home Office can do is establish a basic strategy that allows all of those detained to have access to proper legal advice.
But when even actors of the law skirt the course of justice in pursuit of profit and for their own self-interest against the very real reality of detainees where the light at the end of the tunnel can so often end in tragic circumstances, their moral compass may be skewed but it steps in line with the status quo. The Home Office appears to remain indifferent to the whole sorry affair when they should be hanging their heads in collective shame and cast in shackles themselves to stand before the dock of judgement; it’s nothing short of criminal how they treat those less fortunate.