Law Centre challenge forces government to offer legal aid to migrant children

Friday, July 13th 2018

This week, the government was forced into another U-turn on its legal aid policy, following a legal challenge by Islington Law Centre, acting on behalf of the Children's Society.

Islington Law Centre and MiCLU (its Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit) represented The Children's Society in their five-year-long legal challenge to part of the government's 2013 legal aid cuts, namely the removal of legal aid for children’s immigration cases.

Following the legal challenge, justice minister Lucy Frazer made a statement to the House of Commons on 12 July 2018, announcing that changes will be made to reinstate the right to legal aid for unaccompanied or separated migrant children, who require legal advice and representation in relation to immigration matters. This is the first time that the Lord Chancellor has exercised his powers to reinstate civil legal aid for a specified group.

Roopa Tanna, immigration solicitor at Islington Law Centre, explained:

“Immigration law is complex and fast moving. Combined with the hostile environment, which we have seen wreak such havoc on the Windrush generation, the thought of children navigating the system alone was terrifying. Sometimes as a lawyer you start with a gut instinct that something is wrong, and you build a case around it. After 5 years of hard work it is a relief to see that instinct vindicated.”

Ruth Hayes, co-director of Islington Law Centre, said:

“The role of a Law Centre is to ensure equality of access to justice to all members of our community. In the face of cuts to our services we nevertheless decided to run this case on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, because of the fundamental issues of access to justice involved.”

In the face of government’s Hostile Environment policy and cuts to public services, legal aid remains an important safeguard for children who face complex laws affecting every aspect of their lives. Children without a parent to advocate for them are particularly vulnerable, and, as the Windrush scandal has demonstrated, the effects of being unable to assert rights and entitlements in relation to one’s immigration status can last a lifetime.

The Law Centre thanked its legal team for their great work, n particular Paul Bowen QC, Michelle Knorr, Alison Pickup, Oliver Jones, and Zoe Harper. It also thanked all those who supported the case by providing evidence of the impact that loss of legal aid has had on separated and unaccompanied migrant children.