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NGO denounces UK lies Legal Advice for Asylum Detainees

one of noborders | 05.07.2007 00:20 | Gender | Migration | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is an independent charity that exists to challenge immigration detention in the UK. We work with asylum seekers and migrants, in removal centres and prisons, to secure their release from detention.

In response to recent parliamentary questions the UK government made out the that the support that BID provided to women and children in Yarl's Wood amounted to adequate provision for legal advice on navigating the UK asylum and detention system.

The volunteers of BID totally reject this mis-representation of their work, read on understand what's really going on in detenion centres in the UK today.

BID workshops in detention centres do not constitute legal representation - BID response to Lord Bassam's parliamentary answer, July 2007

On 3rd July 2007, Lord Bassam responded to a parliamentary question by Lord Hylton concerning access to legal representation for women at Yarl's Wood ("What assessment they have made of reports thatŠ57 per cent had no legal representation.")
House of Lords - 3 July 2007 : Column WA173

Lord Bassam stated that:

"Both the Legal Services Commission and Bail for Immigration Detainees hold regular workshops for detainees at Yarl's Wood and the centre library has information on legal representation which can be accessed by detainees."

BID runs workshops in Yarl's Wood IRC every two weeks (and monthly in three other removal centres). BID workshops do not constitute legal representation and BID strongly objects to them being cited by the government as evidence that women are able to access legal representation. In BID's experience, there is a serious problem with access to legal representation for women and children at Yarl's Wood.

BID workshops are open to all women at Yarl's Wood. The numbers attending range from 6 to 120. BID workshops are not a replacement for legal advice and representation for the following reasons:-

o The purpose of the workshop is to provide general information on women's right to apply for bail, particularly for those who are forced to represent themselves because they are unable to find legal representation (there is no time limit on detention, yet there is no automatic independent review and no automatic provision of a bail hearing or legal representation).

o No individual advice is provided during the workshop

o Follow-up advice provided by BID following a workshop is very limited. This is contrast to a legal representative who has a duty to carry out any necessary work or make an appropriate referral

o The workshop setting is not confidential and this prevents detainees from revealing information about their cases

o The lack of confidentiality prevents the BID trainer from taking any information from detainees which is not volunteered

o Translation is not available

o Many detainees are unable to read and write and are unable to use the workshop information to pursue a bail application

o Many of those attending have been detained for several weeks, and some for many months. Most have no active legal representation.

BID is a registered charity and does not receive any Legal Services Commission funding. Last year, BID received over 1500 requests last year for help with bail but had only the capacity to represent about 150 people in bail hearings, using barristers who donate their time.

BID developed the workshops very reluctantly in response to the dire shortage of legal representation. BID lobbies the Legal Services Commission and the Department for Constitutional Affairs to improve access to legal representation for detainees. BID has written to Lord Bassam to invite him to attend a workshop at Yarl's Wood. Recently, two members of staff from the Legal Services Commission attended and were visibly shocked by the dire situation of many women at the workshop.

The LSC-funded Detention Duty Advice scheme set up in December 2005 in response to lobbying by NGOs, provides 30 minute free advice sessions to a limited number of detainees (usually 20 slots per week per centre are available). While BID welcomes the introduction of this pilot, we are concerned that it is not currently having a significant impact for many detainees.

Despite the large numbers of people in detention, accessible, quality legal representation remains out of reach for the majority of detainees, who often rely on help from over-stretched charities and a handful of committed legal representatives. This is causing intolerable suffering and injustice to many seeking refuge in the UK. HM Inspectorate of Prisons has repeatedly expressed concerns about access to legal advice for immigration detainees.

Department for Constitutional Affairs and Legal Services Commission proposals, published in July 2006 and due to be implemented in October 2007, will further reduce available legal assistance to all asylum seekers and migrants by imposing a fixed fee for legal work. Experienced, good-quality practitioners are opposing the changes, which they say will prevent a quality job being done by further squeezing the funding available. The proposals will hit detainees particularly hard as the LSC are proposing the introduction of exclusive contracts, citing the fast track as a successful model of service provision. This is in the absence of any publicly available evaluation and despite growing concern about the quality of some of the fast track suppliers.

The use of public funding for appeals and bail applications is subject to a merits test, which requires the supplier to assess the chances of success to be greater than 50%. In BID's experience, the merits test is being wrongly applied in many cases, and many detainees are not advised of their right to a review of the decision not to grant public funding (a process which uses a 'CW4 Form' for a paper review of the funding decision).

The lack of access to legal remedies, as a result of the shortage of quality legal representation, means that detention may be unnecessarily prolonged, may become unlawful, is distressing for the individual and wastes public money.

In conclusion, BID workshops are not a substitute for legal representation and should not be presented as such.

Contact: BID 07962 460956 / 0207 247 3590

From: "Sarah (BID UK)"

one of noborders
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