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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

'Nonsense' immigration proposals 'lack credibility' and 'muddle' relevant law

'Nonsense' immigration proposals 'lack credibility' and 'muddle' relevant law


Asylum lawyers would face extra layer of regulation under proposed changes 

The Law Society of England and Wales (Law Society) is concerned changes to the asylum system proposed by the government would undermine access to justice and the rule of law.

Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce, said plans set out in the government’s New Plan for Immigration consultation pose a “serious threat” to the rule of law, undermine access to justice and make “a mockery of British fair play.”

She added: “Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Penalising asylum-seekers who reach our shores by so-called irregular routes, such as by boat, would overturn this principle and risk breaching international law by creating a two-tier asylum system. The government appears not to appreciate the severity of this risk.”

The UK is signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which protects asylum seekers fleeing persecution from being penalised for using irregular means to travel.

Boyce commented: “The purported aim of preventing people smuggling networks is important, but it is critical the law does not punish the victims of criminal networks. Punishing victims of crime is not acceptable in a civilised, democratic country which upholds the rule of law.

“The proposals seek to push asylum-seekers who reach the UK by irregular routes into destitution or homelessness as a way of coercing them to leave the country.

“Extremely vulnerable people who are seeking asylum are exercising their legal right to escape human rights abuses – to penalise them in this way could constitute a further abuse.”

The proposals would limit access to the courts and curb the right to appeal, which would remove critical safeguards. In the year to March 2020, 45 per cent of asylum appeals were successful, suggesting flawed initial decision-making is a factor in a significant proportion of cases.

At the end of March 2020, 51,905 people were awaiting an outcome on their initial claim for asylum. Of these, 61 per cent had been waiting for more than six months.

The Law Society said “The vast majority are banned from working until their claim is accepted and in the meantime are entitled to Home Office support equivalent to £5.39 per day.”

The Law Society has suggested that a so-called ‘one-stop process’ would be “impracticable, unrealistic and a barrier to accessing justice for many people.”

Boyce said: “The independence of our legal system underpins Britain’s standing internationally, our reputation for democracy and fair play.

“That independence hinges in part on lawyers being able to do their job without prejudice and to represent their clients, whomever they may be, according to the laws of the land.”

Boyce said the suggestion of “good faith’ requirements” for asylum lawyers is a “nonsense”, likely to undermine trust in the justice system.

“Asylum solicitors are already bound by the highest ethical and professional standards – they are highly regulated, not just by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but also by the Ministry of Justice’s own Legal Aid Agency.

She added: “The proposals individually and collectively lack credibility because they are not supported by evidence, detail and perhaps - most damningly – they muddle immigration, asylum and nationality laws.

Boyce shared her concern it was “well-nigh impossible to provide a substantial or detailed response to many of the consultation questions” due to a “lack of rationale or information on how the proposals could realistically operate in practice”.

She added: “The rule of law and access to justice should underpin any reform of the asylum system. The proposals risk seriously infringing both these pillars of our democracy.

“Any changes should be well-evidenced, coherent and take a trauma-informed approach, reflecting the experiences of people seeking asylum in the UK.”