England: Government reinstates legal aid for vulnerable migrant children

Lucy Frazer
Lucy Frazer

The UK government has reinstated legal aid for unaccompanied and separated children in non-asylum immigration cases.

Lucy Frazer, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said the U-turn would be put into effect through an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

Under current legislation, legal aid is available in all asylum cases for all age groups as well as immigration cases where someone is challenging a detention decision. In other cases, legal aid is only available via the “Exceptional Case Funding” (ECF) scheme.

The policy change follows a five-year judicial review brought by The Children’s Society, whose research suggests thousands of children have been denied legal aid since the legislation entered force in 2013.

Only a small number of children affected by the changes have been able to access legal aid through the ECF scheme, it said.

Ms Frazer (pictured) said: “Following a judicial review brought by the Children’s Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding.

“Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice.

“The amendment will be laid in due course following discussion across government and with external stakeholders.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, added: “This is an important change in policy which will go a long way to protecting some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people in our communities.

“Legal aid is absolutely vital for ensuring that children can access justice. For children who are subject to immigration control and who are in this country on their own, it is an absolute life line.

“The government should be commended for this significant change for children and young people.”