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A court judgment has recently ruled that refugees looking to be reunited with their families are, once again, entitled to legal aid to assist them in the process.
Free legal services as part of the UK legal aid system used to be available for refugees pursuing their rights under UK and international law to be reunited with their families. The rights of refugees to access legal aid was, however, scrapped in April of 2013, leaving many of those seeking refuge or humanitarian protection in the UK with the prospect of permanent or, at the very least, prolonged separation from their loved ones. Without expert help, refugees are often unable to navigate the long and complex process they are required to follow to be in with a chance of being reunited with their families, a scenario that has become increasingly common since their access to legal aid was scrapped. There is now, however, new hope for refugees in the form of a somewhat surprising ruling that has gone in favour of refugees once more accessing legal aid.
The recent judgment formed part of a ruling revolving particularly around access to Exceptional Case Funding (ECF), the funding scheme put in place by the government following the extensive cuts to legal aid provisions in 2012. ECF allows for the provision of government funding in cases that are no longer eligible for legal aid, but that involve exceptional circumstances that warrant access to funds. As it stands, the Ministry of Justice reports that as many as 98% of applications for ECF for immigration-based cases are currently denied, making it the least favoured area of law with regards to ECF. With many cases reported as wrongly refused and overturned later upon appeal, the lack of legal aid funding had left many immigration experts reeling with a sense that justice was lacking in this particular sector of immigration law. Now this judgment serves to uphold the rights of refugees and return the law in this area to its former state.
The case questioned whether refugees applying for family reunification should be entitled to ECF, or not. In the landmark ruling, it was decided that, not only should they be entitled to Exceptional Case Funding, but that they should also be eligible for legal aid to help them with their cases, as they were prior to the 2013 rule. In summary, the court found that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 expressly made provision for refugees to access legal aid, as it states that such aid will be given for matters that arise from the Refugee Convention, including the right to family reunification for those seeking refuge.
This latest ruling will ensure that refugees once again have access to the legal advice, help and resources that will enable them to reunite their families, not only in exceptional circumstances, but in general. If you are unsure how this ruling may affect your eligibility for legal aid, then contact one of our lawyers today for expert immigration advice and guidance.