08.03.2014 – Further to our series considering deportation and the ‘public interest’ we consider provision of legal aid for those currently faced with deportation from the UK and following recent protests against legal aid cuts in the Criminal Justice System

Prior to April 2013 legal aid was available to those who required legal advice regarding deportation or removal from the United Kingdom. A fixed fee was payable by the Legal Services Commission (now the Legal Aid Agency) to solicitors or other accredited advisors who gave general advice to individuals. This normally involved travelling to see clients detained in removal centres and prisons; assisting clients in completing Home Office questionnaires issued to those whom the Secretary of State wished to deport; and helping to demonstrate evidence of family and other ties to the UK.

If a Deportation Order was made and the individual wished to appeal against the decision to a tribunal, the Legal Services Commission would pay a further fee for preparation of the case to go to court (the Tribunal). This would normally cover taking witness statements from family members, friends and other members of the community; obtaining official records including national insurance records, probation and prison reports, and sentencing remarks; sourcing testimonials on behalf of clients; or simply demonstrating the length of an individual’s residence in the country, an often complex and time-consuming process. A further fixed advocacy fee would be payable for an individual’s representation at the tribunal, irrespective of the number of hours spent waiting at court.

This work was never profitable. The total cost to the state of representing a person subject to deportation proceedings who responded to the Home Office questionnaire and then appealed against the decision was usually just over £900 in cases that would usually span 1-2 years depending on when the advisor was first instructed. The number of hours spent on these types of cases, from start to finish by firms such as ours, would rarely be less than 30 and often far more. There was provision for an increase in fees, but only if the cases proceeded to take 3 times longer than was expected by the legal aid authorities, with no allowance given for the very large number of cases that were double or just under 3 times the limit.

Since April 2013 and cuts to the civil legal aid budget have come into force, legal aid is no longer available for any immigration matters (with some notable exceptions) and this includes provision of advice and representation for those facing deportation. This is despite the Supreme Court recently referring to the law in this field as “an impenetrable jungle of intertwined statutory provisions and judicial decisions”, with regular and substantial changes to the immigration rules governing individual rights to remain in the UK.

Luqmani Thompson & Partners regularly represents clients facing deportation decisions, in appeals against decisions to deport and in applications for the revocation of orders for Deportation.