A new report by Young Legal Aid Lawyers (‘YLAL’), “A Sector at Breaking Point: Justice Denied for Victims of Trafficking”, confirms that there is a market failure in the asylum and immigration legal aid sector, with victims of trafficking often unable to access legally aided asylum and immigration advice and representation. YLAL’s report also finds that the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 further restrict access to justice for this vulnerable group.
You can find the report here.
The report’s evidence is drawn from a rapid consultation with the anti-slavery support sector about the state of access to justice for victims of trafficking. YLAL’s survey was open for responses 15-17 June 2020. Despite being live for fewer than three days, it received 34 responses from individuals working in at least 18 organisations. We are grateful to the individuals and organisations that responded to our consultation.
Respondents were clear that access to legal aid for asylum and immigration matters is essential for victims of trafficking to recover from their trauma and access support mechanisms. As one respondent put it, “it is everything.”
Key findings of the report include:
- 70.6% of respondents stated that it was either ‘impossible’ (2.9%), ‘extremely difficult’ (20.6%) or ‘difficult’ (47.1%) to find legal aid representation for victims of trafficking.
- 44.1% of respondents stated that victims of trafficking had left their service before they were able to find them an immigration representative.
- Victims of trafficking are incurring debt and returning to exploitation in order to pay for a private immigration representation due to legal aid providers being unavailable.
- Lack of access to asylum and immigration legal aid lawyers puts victims of trafficking at risk of exploitation from unregulated asylum and immigration providers.
The report outlines a prima facie breach of the government’s duties to ensure access to legally aided asylum and immigration representation for victims of trafficking under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (‘ECAT’) and the EU Trafficking Directive.
The Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 will further restrict access to justice for victims of trafficking as they make complex asylum and immigration cases financially unviable.
YLAL calls on the Legal Aid Minister, Alex Chalk MP, to:
- Immediately withdraw the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.
- Consult the asylum and immigration legal aid sector ahead of any further proposed changes.
- Acknowledge the government’s specific legal obligations to ensure access to legally aided asylum and immigration representation for victims of trafficking, inter alia under ECAT and the EU Trafficking Directive.
- Acknowledge the market failure in the provision of asylum and immigration legal aid.
- Work with the Treasury to ensure that the legal aid sector is sufficiently funded to address the market failure and the government’s ongoing breach of its duties to victims of trafficking.
Please write to your MP asking them to take action and bring YLAL's report to the attention of the Legal Aid Minister.
You can find a template letter here.
The anti-trafficking sector have written to the Legal Aid Minsiter voicing their conerns. You can find a copy of the letter here.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers
22 June 2020