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Top campaigners come to legal charity's aid

4 June 2010

Leading human rights groups and politicians have mounted a campaign to prevent the closure of one of the country’s top providers of legal advice for asylum seekers.

Amnesty, Liberty and Barnardos have joined a host of legal luminaries in signing a petition for prompt payment of overdue fees to the Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) charity.

Signing the letter, Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It is already very hard for asylum seekers to find a good legal representative because of poor legal aid funding.

“We are terrified about what will happen if RMJ is forced to close.

“We fear that RMJ’s former clients may fall prey to poor quality legal representatives or be left without representation at all.”

The RMJ announced recently it could be forced to close its doors because of a crippling cash-flow crisis caused by changes to the payment structure which mean money now does not change hands until after the case is completed.

In some cases payment for the completed legal advice is now taking two years to be reimburse, leaving the not-for-profit group struggling to stay afloat.

Caroline Slocock, chief executive of RMJ said: “RMJ is not asking for new money, simply prompt payment of legal aid by the Legal Services Commission, or failing that, interest free loans by the government to cover the gap.

“We know times are hard but it doesn’t make sense to drive charities out of business.

“Money could be found through the government’s promised review of legal aid which could reduce waste – for example, paying the same fee for a piece of short advice that does not resolve the case as for the intensive – and expensive – work needed to finish the job. That would free up resources to pay good quality providers like RMJ fairly and promptly.”

The letter, addressed to the secretaries of state for Justice and the Home Office, is signed by a raft of high profile figures including Archbishop of Canterbury Sir Rowan Williams, civil rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman, and Baroness How.

Another signatory, Shami Chakrabarti, added: “RMJ does an invaluable job in helping those who come to our country in search of succour.

“In the UK, asylum seekers can be indefinitely detained with limited access to legal advice and support.

“As some of the most vulnerable members of our society, justice can often be hard to find - the loss of this vital organisation can only make things worse.”

RMJ, based in East London, has been going since 1992 and now employs 336 staff in 13 centres across England It says it needs to be paid £1.8m in the next six months to keep operating, and estimates it would cost the tax payer £2m if it shut down.

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