UK immigration legal aid to get additional money after cuts
The UK government has announced additional money for the legal aid system in an attempt to help those who cannot afford legal representation. The pledge comes after an anticipated review into legal aid cuts made by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force, and with few exceptions, it removed legal aid from many civil court cases overnight. The cuts included areas of civil dispute, such as divorce and child custody, debts and housing, employment and welfare benefits, and UK immigration.
The Government’s New Pledge
The Justice Secretary Lord Chancellor David Gauke outlined an extra £8 million for the legal aid system. A £5 million slice of this will be used for new ‘innovative’ technologies. Lucy Frazer QC MP, the Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice said that funding could be used for a Skype tool, or other program, which automatically converts wordy arguments into claim forms. The remaining £3 million will support litigants and the creation of ‘legal support hubs’.
For UK immigration, the government has pledged to bring forward proposals to expand legal aid to migrant children, who have been separated in immigration cases, while also bringing forward proposals to cover special guardianship orders for these separated children. There’s hope that this will come into effect in the spring of this year.
Yet the additional funding is unlikely to satisfy ardent critics of cuts to legal aid representation. The government spends £1.6 billion annually on legal aid, an £8 million addition is a fractional contribution. David Gauke defended the recent reforms saying that the legal support system had focused more on ‘funding court disputes, with less emphasis on how problems can be resolved earlier’ to avoid escalation.
The Chair of the Bar Council, Richard Atkins QC, was quoted in the Law Gazette describing the extra funds as ‘a drop in the ocean’ further saying that “the 500-page report offers little of substance to ease the impact of LASPO on vulnerable individuals seeking justice.”