Published: 23rd November 2023 PLP continues to prepare evidence, following a meeting with the Ministry of Justice that did not yield any significant improvements. Read our latest letter to the Lord Chancellor explaining why Last week, we met with the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency officials about PLP’s proposed legal challenge, tackling the Lord Chancellor’s ongoing failure to make immigration and asylum legal aid available. The focus of the proposed claim is the immigration and asylum legal aid shortage in the South West and the North West of England, and nationwide when it comes to the availability of representatives for cases funded by Exceptional Case Funding (ECF). At the meeting, the Ministry of Justice acknowledged there are problems with capacity for immigration and asylum work, but only in the South West of England and not in relation to any other part of England and Wales, and not with ECF. Why the ‘remote providers list’ doesn’t work As an answer to capacity issues in the South West, the Ministry of Justice published a ‘remote providers list’ of immigration and asylum legal aid providers from elsewhere in England and Wales who said they have capacity to deliver remote advice and assistance to clients in the South West who have been unable to secure advice locally. This ‘remote providers list’ was the focus of the meeting with the Ministry of Justice last week. Our huge thanks go to partner organisations and the wider legal aid sector for providing feedback on how this list is working, which we used to inform our position in advance of the meeting. We told the officials that, based on our own evidence and partner feedback, the list is not currently an adequate solution and can never be a complete solution to capacity issues in the South West as, among other reasons: There is a considerable amount of evidence showing that there simply is not the capacity elsewhere in England and Wales to meet the needs of clients in the South West. Look no further than PLP’s report ‘An Ocean of Unmet Need’ or Refugee Action/Jo Wilding’s ‘No Access to Justice’ Report (amongst numerous other reports and papers). Early feedback provided by the sector on how the list is working suggests that many firms do not have capacity for legal aid work. Against this background, the list is only capable of shifting capacity to the South West from areas that are already underserved. For many clients, remote advice is simply not suitable. Many people who need immigration and asylum legal aid cannot use remote advice services by reason of disability, vulnerability or the nature of their case. Feedback from the sector included detailed examples of why this is the case. South West providers also raised concerns about some firms ‘cherry picking’ the most ‘profitable’ (or more accurately the least unprofitable) cases. Clearly, the remote providers list does not begin to address PLP’s other key concerns about the ECF system and the capacity problems in other parts of the country. What’s happening now? Our letter to the Ministry of Justice states that PLP’s position is unchanged following the meeting. We are still working to prepare our evidence in the event it is necessary to issue the claim and we intend to keep partners updated at regular intervals. PLP has received over 50 detailed case studies from partners, which helpfully illustrate the breadth of problems encountered by people who cannot access advice and assistance. We hope to publish those case studies in due course, so that they are available to others working on these issues. Thank you to everyone who has helped us with this case so far. We do not take for granted how much time and energy you have put in. It would not be possible without your hard work and support.