UPDATE: Can you help once more with PLP’s challenge to the Lord Chancellor over legal aid?

Following PLP’s pre-action letter to the Lord Chancellor in September, the Lord Chancellor has told PLP that part of the solution to the shortage of legal advice in the South West is to encourage use of remote advice from a list of providers who have indicated they have capacity.  

Will this solve the problem? Can you share your insight on how this is working ? 

We are meeting with the Lord Chancellor on Monday 13 November where we will have the opportunity to communicate any insight and concerns you can share with us about this proposal. 

How can you help?

Please send any comments or reflections by Friday 10 November 2023 to Emma Vincent Miller at e.vincentmiller@publiclawproject.org.uk. Responses from organisations in the South West are particularly welcome!  

Background: Why did PLP initiate a challenge over the availability of legal aid? 

On 8 September 2023 PLP sent a pre-action letter to the Lord Chancellor, challenging his failure to make legal aid available for immigration and asylum issues.  

You can read more about the pre-action letter and our evidence about the crisis in the immigration legal aid sector here, including the research report, An Ocean of Unmet Need

Lord Chancellor’s reply denies ‘failure’ and offers ‘remote providers list’ 

In the Lord Chancellor’s response to PLP’s pre-action letter, he disagrees that he has failed to comply with his duty to make immigration and asylum legal aid available.   

While the Lord Chancellor does acknowledge that there is a shortage of legal aid advice in some areas, particularly the South West, he says he is taking steps to address this. He says the solution lies in matching unmet demand in the South West with excess supply elsewhere, via remote advice.   

To that end, the MoJ has published a ‘remote providers list’ on gov.uk, comprising immigration and asylum legal aid providers from elsewhere in England and Wales who have said they have capacity to take on clients in the South West who have been unable to secure advice locally.   

Other than the South West, the Lord Chancellor has not pointed to any other parts of the UK that he considers to have unmet demand.   

PLP: A ‘remote providers list’ is unlikely to solve the problem   

PLP wrote back to the Lord Chancellor on 2 November 2023 and explained why the remote providers list is unlikely to solve the problems raised in our pre-action letter.  

Drawing on research and insight from legal aid providers, we said in our reply:   

  • Given the crisis in immigration legal aid is a nationwide problem, there is unlikely to be supply elsewhere to plug the gaps in the South West. 
  • A remote providers list has been tried before – albeit it was not published on gov.uk – and it did not solve the problems in the South West.  
  • We asked how this time would be different. We also asked how the process would be monitored, to see whether it was working.  
  • Remote advice provision is not a universal solution and is unsuitable for those who need face-to-face advice due to their vulnerabilities or the nature of their case.   
  • We raised concerns on behalf of immigration providers in the South West that the remote providers list could have a counterproductive effect. For example, out of area providers could ‘cherry pick’ the most profitable cases, making things even more difficult for local providers.
  • We queried why South West providers were not consulted on the list proposal and indeed any alternative options, such as providing additional renumeration.   

How you can help 

We are meeting with the Ministry of Justice about these issues on Monday 13 November 2023.   

If you have any concerns you would like us to raise, we would like to hear from you. You may be able to supplement or expand on the points we have already raised based on your experiences. Response from organisations in the South West are particularly welcome. 

Please send any comments, concerns or reflections by Friday 10 November 2023 to Emma Vincent Miller at e.vincentmiller@publiclawproject.org.uk  

We thank you hugely for your time and support.   

Read our correspondence with the Lord Chancellor so far: