Date: 30th July 2007
To: Metropolitan Community Church of Manchester
We are writing to extend a huge thank you to all who contributed to the Smartie Tube fundraiser over Lent. The funds you have raised will go directly into our service provision so that members of our client group who need access to legal advice and representation can get it.
Many of you will agree that those in such desperate need should be able to access advice about their legal situation with ease. Sadly that is not the case and the limitations on what we, as publicly funded lawyers, can provide have increased over recent years making it harder than ever to get good quality advice on immigration and asylum law.
Our Drop-In service, jointly funded by the Legal Services Commission and the Local Authorities of Manchester and Tameside, is under threat because the Legal Services Commission no longer want to provide the money for this service. This is one of the main ways in which we provided our service.
Many people who come to see us are prepared to wait from 6 or 7am to be seen. They know that we will review their case papers, advise comprehensively and even throw in a cup of tea during the advice session. If we can take on their case we will, but the Legal Services Commission also limit the public funding for a case by requiring us to prove the merits of the case at the outset rather than allow us to build a case from discussing events with a client, gathering evidence and assessing objective information. This is most difficult to do for those wanting advice about how to make a fresh claim for protection in the UK.
A review of Home Office statistics will show that a significant number of people claiming asylum and human rights protection have their cases refused. The majority go on to appeal against the decision, some with legal representation and others without. The chances of being successful without a lawyer are slim. Even with one, it is an up-hill struggle because of the interpretation of the UK’s obligations under the Refugee and Human Rights Conventions that have come out of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and other higher courts in recent times which bind other Immigration Judges to follow them.
The upshot of all of this is that there is a significant community of so called ’failed asylum seekers’ – men, women and sometimes children stigmatised in our society by this label, branded as unworthy or, worse, as bogus. Such negative language is hard to live with and we see many people clearly affected by how they think people view them. After all they are only human….something our media and our politicians seem to forget.
So how does a ‘failed asylum seeker’ get their case back on track? The Legal Services Commission won’t fund the work on a fresh claim until the merits of the case can be proven. How do we prove the merits of a case if we have no resources to fund the investigative work we need to do – to pick over the case papers to work out what facts have been accepted, assess whether a newly arrived summons or letter from a family member can impact on any negative findings made in the case so far? How do we look at whether a change in the situation in the person’s country of origin would impact on them if they were returned or even assess a person’s case in the light of changes in the law here in the UK? The answer is we do it with the money you raised.
We can provide almost 15 hours of advice for the money you donated. We can use this to review cases that come to us via the Drop-In and we can use the money to support existing cases where we are still investigating the fresh claim our client seeks to make.
We have an existing and growing reputation for fresh claims work. This is a tough area of law to practise in at the best of times but fresh claims work is complex and arduous, yet we do it well and with your support we can now do more. 15 hours of ‘free time’ may not seem much to you but to us it is significant as it means we can undertake research, think about a case, talk to a client, maybe even talk to an expert, and know that we are living up to the expectations of the person we represent and to the set of values and principles which lie at the heart of GMIAU. Your donations have made access to justice a reality for a number of people and we are truly grateful.
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit