Legitimate asylum seekers face being removed from Britain without having their cases properly heard, an LBC investigation has found.
Figures seen exclusively by LBC show that over half of the people removed by the Home Office on specially arranged charter flights over the summer did not have a lawyer on record.
The Home Office has repeatedly criticised “activist lawyers” for frustrating its ability to remove people. But our findings raise fears that a significant percentage of the people being removed do not have access to adequate legal representation.
LBC has shared our findings with charities and immigration lawyers who have raised fears that there may be people on these planes with legitimate asylum claims, including potential trafficking victims.
Last summer, the Home Office began a faster pace of deportations and removals, and figures provided to LBC under the Freedom of Information act show that of the 71 people removed in August and September, 37 of them did not have a lawyer on record. Removal flights continued at pace until December, when the UK left the European Union. So if these findings are even broadly representative, they could signal a systemic issue.
It is important to distinguish between deportations, which often include convicted criminals, and administrative removals, which include migrants and asylum seekers. Our figures relate to the latter category.
Bella Sankey, the director of charity Detention Action, said “It’s shocking that such a low proportion of people being removed don’t have legal representation. It’s impossible to know whether those who didn’t have representation would have had valid claims to asylum or valid evidence they’d been victims of trafficking.
“We know for a fact that many of the people issued with removal directions by the Government last year were victims of some of the most heinous abuses you can imagine, so it’s really alarming to now see that such a low proportion of those individuals that were removed had access to lawyers.”
The asylum system can be daunting at the best of times for those people who arrive with little grasp of English, or of the UK’s legal system. Monir Ahmadi, now a journalist and lawyer, has first hand experience of the system as a refugee from Afghanistan. He told us: “I have friends whose cases where rejected but they didn’t have any chance to speak to a lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer you don’t know how to present your case. Asylum seekers don’t know what arguments they can provide to support their case. They may have their documents and evidence but they don’t know how to present it.”
The Home Office told us in a statement that: “We only return those who have no right to be in the UK. All claimants have the opportunity to be legally represented during the consideration of their asylum claim and the Legal Aid Agency ensures legal aid funding is provided to those who need it.”
“The current system is broken. Our New Immigration Plan will address abuse of the system help stop the waste of significant judicial resources.”
They also pointed to research published by the Government last month that suggested 8 out of 10 last-minute attempts to avoid removal are rejected.
However, the scheme by which the Legal Aid Agency provides legal assistance to immigration detainees, known as the Detention Duty Advice (DDA) Scheme, has been criticised by campaigners as being not fit for purpose. It is currently subject to a potential legal challenge from a coalition of NGOs including Detention Action.
They say they have seen multiple instances of legitimate asylum seekers or trafficking victims failing to have their cases taken on, and argue there is evidence that a number of firms involved in the scheme have taken on only a tiny fraction of the cases they’ve been assigned.
Ms Sankey said: “The system is in disarray, it’s not fit for purpose. People don’t have lawyers available to them. The legal advice that is being given at times is wrong. We’ve raised these concerns consistently with the Legal Aid Agency and more recently with Government, and we’re now in the process of initiating litigation over this.”