Refugees pursuing family reunification claims could have a better chance of accessing legal aid, following a new Court of Appeal ruling.
The ruling is the result of a long running case centred on guidelines about who is eligible to apply for legal aid in certain immigration cases following the Government’s swingeing legal aid cuts in 2013.
Legal aid is vital for refugees pursuing family reunification as the cases are often wrongly refused and later overturned on appeal.
The High Court had previously ruled that refugees should be entitled to legal aid to help them pursue their family reunion claims as a matter of course. Sadly, the Government appealed and the Appeal Court ruled that refugees will now only be able to access legal aid through ‘exceptional case funding’.
However, the Appeal Court also ruled that the threshold for who was eligible to receive exceptional case funding was too high, and ordered the Government to rewrite its guidance to ensure full compatibility with the law. Previously, 98% of applications for exceptional case funding were rejected. It is expected that with revised guidance, those needing legal help to bring their families here will be more likely to receive it.
The Government’s own guidance currently states that in cases where people’s human rights are at risk, they should be granted exceptional case funding. Now judges have ruled that for refugee family reunion claims, a person’s right to a family life would be sufficiently threatened to enable them to qualify for exceptional case funding.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis says: “Whilst disappointed that family reunion will not automatically be funded, we trust that the government will acknowledge that those who need specialist advice and representation to reunite their family will receive it, so that no-one misses out on the right to live in safety together.”
The Ministry of Justice said it would ‘carefully consider’ its next steps following the ruling.