Outraged by the reactions to a recent story in the Herald about possible developments in legal aid provision for complex immigration cases, I found myself spending more time than I should have responding to some of those comments.
I am very depressed on reading the comments on this story from previous commentators. The UK has prided itself on being a place of hope for refugees and persecuted peoples from around the world, and has benefited greatly from the skills and insights they bring to our society.
The legal process aims to separate those entitled to refuge from those not entitled. It is an adversarial process and the Home Office creates a ‘hostile environment’ to test their claims fully. It is the Home Office and its processes which is most often responsible for the lengthy delays that can occur in some cases – no-one seeking permission to remain in the UK wants their case to take years to sort out.
One of the principles of a fair legal system is that everyone should be able to benefit, irrespective of their financial situation. Legal Aid is therefore a necessary part of a flourishing democracy. Lawyers working for legal aid fees are making much less money than most in their profession and could make much more money working for those who could afford to pay them private client fees … part of their motivation is service to those least able to represent themselves in the legal system against powerful well represented opponents, in this case HM government’s ‘hostile environment’. It is an important, if apparently unpopular, part of our democratic system and needs to be defended if we claim to be a democracy at all. The appeals process is part of the necessary ‘checks and balances’ of a fair legal system and therefore should, where appropriate (and their are internal tests for this within the system) be properly funded so that it is accessible to all.
…. and in response to a reply I received ….
I agree that there should be tests and appropriate controls. It is because of these, and our sea border, that the UK accepts far fewer refugees and asylum seekers than many other rich developed countries as, for example, this recent UNHCR report makes clear … .(other reports are available online).
It is no coincidence that the highest numbers of migrants seeking refuge in Europe are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran – countries where there has been great dislocation, a breakdown in civil order and/or persecution of minorities – and that the country hosting the largest number is Turkey (their closest point of arrival in Eurasia), or that Germany, France and Italy on mainland Europe have the largest numbers of those seeking asylum.
The UK does some of this work, but not by any means an unreasonable amount, given that it is a very attractive destination to many who have learned English. This is a price the UK pays for the worldwide use of English, a price generally considered worth paying for the many uncosted, and generally unacknowledged, benefits it brings to the UK, both economically and culturally.
Of course there are chancers, which the ‘hostile environment’ is designed to discourage and detect. There are also unscrupulous ‘travel agents’ who take money on false promises – not all those arriving illegally knew that was what was going to happen, having signed up for a false prospectus.
It is, in any event, legal and in accordance with the UK’s international legal commitments to human rights and freedoms (commitments which many of the UK’s citizens are rightly proud of), for ‘illegal immigrants’ to seek asylum in the UK and have their cases tested before they can be returned to the situation they have come from and which they have claimed is a perilous one. Further information about the legal background to the situation can be readily found here, here and here .
First published on the author’s blog