Legal aid reinstated for migrant children in care

30 August 2018

Government announces changes to controversial restrictions on legal aid for unaccompanied and separated migrant children

The Government has announced a move to reinstate legal aid for unaccompanied and separated migrant children - a decision that has significant implications for local authorities across England and Wales.

The restrictions on legal aid for migrant children to asylum claims only have been contentious and resulted in local authorities having to make decisions on directly funding legal advice in order to ensure that they were meeting their corporate parenting responsibility to access timely and quality legal advice for migrant children in care.

During the Government’s announcement about the amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012​ in the House of Lords last week, they highlighted that the focus on reinstating legal aid for this migrant children in care is about ensuring that they have 'access to justice'.

Restrictions on legal aid for migrant children in care were put in place in 2013 and resulted in in a situation where the immigration claims of migrant children were not funded by legal aid, but needed to be directly funded by local authorities. During the five years since then, there have been concerning incidents where migrant children were not supported by local authorities to access essential immigration advice, including a Local Government Ombudsman case involving the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

The decision by the Government was prompted by a judicial review challenge made by the Children’s Society, who were represented by Islington Law Centre and the Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU). 

While the timeline for the implementation of the changes is unclear at this stage, as an interim measure, the Government has issued guidance on applying for Exceptional Case Funding for unaccompanied and separated migrant children. This means that migrant children in care should have access to legal aid for their  immigration matters, including citizenship applications, immigration applications on the basis of family and private life, and applications for indefinite leave to remain. 

We will provide further updates when the Government provide full details of the planned changes. Practitioners can sign up to the mailing list to stay up to date with the latest NRPF Network news and policy developments.

This article was origina​lly published on 24 July 2018 and has been updated to include a reference to the ECF guidance. ​