8/10/2020 Photo: Source: Shutterstock/Lisa S.
Limerick-based migrant and refugee support organisation Doras are dismayed by cuts to legal aid for international protection applicants, as this will make it harder for an already vulnerable group of people to access justice. The new legal aid scheme significantly reduces the fee paid to private solicitors for preparing submissions for international protection applications.
“We are very concerned that the pool of private solicitors who want to help with International Protection (asylum) cases will be reduced, meaning less adequate legal representation for people seeking Protection here,” said John Lannon, CEO of Doras. “Those who can help by taking cases inevitably cannot make International Protection applications a financial priority, meaning time and resources are stretched, which impacts asylum decisions.”
Anecdotally, Doras have heard of solicitors who have stopped taking cases, as it was understandably not worth their time. This was before yesterday’s news that legal aid will be reduced by over 50%.
“Given that it will now be more difficult, if not impossible, for private solicitors to support international protection applicants, the Legal Aid Board will now have to recruit a significant number of new solicitors. Otherwise there is a risk that cases will be dealt with by underqualified solicitors who don’t appreciate the amount of work involved in properly representing international protection applicants.”
Doras state that the reduction in legal aid serves to creates further barriers for people seeking International Protection in Ireland.
“The International Protection Office (IPO) provide applicants with a 60-page questionnaire to complete,“ said Lannon. “Given the importance of completing the questionnaire fully and accurately, early access to legal advice on all aspects of the application is essential.”
“Inadequate legal support is one of the reasons why many people spend years in Direct Provision, and why many people are denied asylum despite the fact that their cases are credible. To spend years in these institutions has serious impacts on people’s physical and mental health. Less legal aid will leave people vulnerable to being in a suspended state of legal limbo.”
“This is all contrary to some encouraging developments in the International Protection process in recent months, and the anticipated recommendations on how to replace Direct Provision, provided by the expert group, chaired by Catherine Day. This shows a worrying disregard for the legal entitlements of vulnerable people, to whom this country has clear international obligations.”
- Refugee Legal Service from the Legal Aid Board is available to assist people in preparing international protection applications. While they are supported by a panel of people with legal expertise who are retained on a contract basis, private solicitors are often required when capacity is stretched.