Published: 3rd April 2023 Do you have experience in the immigration legal aid advice sector? We want to hear from you. Public Law Project is representing Haringey Migrant Support Centre (HMSC) to investigate the merits of a potential judicial review challenge against the Lord Chancellor for allowing a situation of market failure to develop in the immigration legal aid advice sector – and we need your help. We are looking for participants in the sector to share their recent experiences of how the system is – or is not – working for them. Share your experiences via this questionnaire or case data spreadsheet. Background Immigration legal aid provision is in crisis. More than 40% of people applying for asylum may be unable to access legal aid according to research by Jo Wilding, and 65% of the population of England and Wales are in an area the Law Society deems to be an immigration ‘advice desert’. We are gathering evidence to demonstrate this level of unmet need and contrast it with the level of available legal aid provider capacity. HMSC are an NGO based in North London who campaign and provide advice and support to the local migrant community. HMSC approached us last year with statistics showing that only 3% of 854 referral attempts they made to legal aid providers were successful over a six month period. The situation has become so bad that other NGO referrers also report that they no longer attempt to make referrals as they have little hope of them being accepted. Similarly, providers have told us that they no longer have the capacity to even process referral requests, let alone reject them. Legal aid in crisis Legal aid hourly rates have not increased since 2007 and the fixed fee funding system is not fit for purpose. A crisis of underfunding has impacted firms’ ability to retain and recruit qualified staff, leading to capacity decreasing amongst established providers. Overstretched practitioners are having to work against the backdrop of the ever-changing immigration, legal, and policy environment. The Nationality and Borders Act, the new Asylum Questionnaire, and the recently introduced Illegal Migration Bill all present new challenges to a system already unable to cope. Previous efforts at engagement with policy makers have failed to remedy the problems. The solutions are well known but unaddressed. The MoJ has begun its review into Civil Legal Aid. However, this is not due to conclude until summer 2024 and any policy changes will not be implemented until after this date. The sector and our clients cannot wait this long. The right of access to legal aid is a fundamental part of the constitutional right of access to justice. The Lord Chancellor has a duty to ‘make legal aid available’ under section two of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) and we need your help to demonstrate the reality on the ground. How to share your experiences The questionnaire can be completed online. The case data spreadsheet should be returned to Ed Cripwell. If you plan to start collecting case level data now, we would suggest doing so for at least a month. If you are an NGO referrer we would love to hear from you. We appreciate that it is difficult to find the time to do this in the current climate when your clients’ needs are the priority. But the fuller picture we can present, the more compelling our evidence will be. The response we have had from the sector so far has been overwhelmingly positive and it feels like a now or never moment. If you would like to speak to someone directly please get in touch with Ed Cripwell or Daniel Rourke. Please be aware that any information you provide may be used as evidence in legal proceedings or in future policy work by PLP/HMSC.