By Ian Dunt
Those receiving legal aid during asylum processes are in danger of being deprived of justice due to a slow and convoluted government payment system, a new report suggests.
'Justice at Risk: quality and value for money in asylum legal aid', a new report by Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) written by academics at the Information Centre for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (ICAR) and City University, argues that quality asylum lawyers are being driven out of business by a legal aid payment system that rewards shortcuts and penalises quality.
It relates to the graduates fee scheme, a legal aid payment system implemented by the previous government, which replaces hourly rates with fixed fees for most cases, and only pays out to practitioners once cases are closed.
Researchers spoke anonymously to ten firms and charities providing legal services, who delivered a damning assessment of a system that is denying asylum seekers proper specified legal assistance.
"I don't know what is going to happen in the future," one anonymous respondent said.
"I mean, it is so insecure for us, so very insecure. It's only going to get worse for the clients, and you know what that means? It means that people are not really going to have access to justice."
Another said: "It just seems as if the fixed fee is providing an absolute minimum to avoid a negligence charge and pretty much nothing more than that.
"It seems like there is no room for individualised quality work specific to each client."
Bob Nightingale, chief executive of the London Legal Support Trust, said: "It is appalling that an organisation so crucial to thousands of people in great need should face closure simply because the government funding regime fails to pay its bills promptly."
Legal aid is particularly important in asylum cases, because asylum seekers often only succeed in their application on appeal.