Young Legal Aid Lawyers release a new report – “Overstretched & Unsustainable: a case study of the immigration and asylum legal aid sector”

27 April 2023

Authored by Dr Jo Hynes of Public Law Project, the report focuses on the issues facing young legal aid practitioners working in the immigration and asylum sector and the consequences the issues have on the wider sector and the people relying on it.

The report makes seven recommendations, which include calling for an urgent increase in legal aid rates, the provision of more meaningful and long-term forms of support for junior practitioners dealing with vicarious trauma and burn-out, and for legal aid providers to commit to ensuring any increase in rates translates into an increase in pay for staff.

You can read the full report below.

Asylum and selected areas of immigration are some of the few areas where legal aid remains available in the UK. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed large swathes of the law from legal aid, severely limiting access to justice and decimating the legal aid sector. Despite remaining ‘in-scope’ for legal aid, over a decade of chronic underfunding, increasingly punitive and complex legislation, and the vilification of asylum seekers and lawyers by the Government and the right-wing press have brought the sector to a crisis point.

Based on data from semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and an online survey, our report finds that young lawyers working in immigration and asylum experience burnout and vicarious trauma, feel as if they are always working beyond capacity and that almost one in five of those surveyed were considering leaving the sector within the next five years. It finds that young lawyers are having to fight across multiple fronts, with one participant saying:

‘I can fight against Home Office decisions. I can fight against the Legal Aid Agency sometimes if I need to. I’ll fight against the courts when they’re slow. But I can’t fight against my own firm, the Legal Aid Agency and the courts and the Home Office.’

The report adds to a growing body of evidence that speaks to the scale of the crisis facing the immigration and asylum legal aid sector (as well as the crisis facing all forms of legal aid, more generally). Data provided by Haringey Migrant Support Centre covering a seven-month period shows only 3% of referrals made on behalf of individuals in need of legally aided representation were successful. Against the backdrop of the Illegal Migration Bill, the consequences of this gap growing and those in need being unable to access legal advice and representation are increasingly grave.

This report was made possible with the support of the Legal Education Foundation through funding aligned with the Justice Together Initiative.