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jawad / 15.11.2023

Government’s consultation response confirms legal aid fees for Illegal Migration Act work will rise by 15%

The Ministry of Justice outlined the new provisions as follows:

1. IMA work will see hourly rates increased by 15%, applicable to all activities under hourly rates, including Controlled and Licensed Work.
2. A review of the IMA fees will be conducted within two years of implementation.
3. Proposals will be developed to alleviate the financial strain of accrediting senior caseworkers to undertake immigration and asylum legal aid work.
4. Travel time to Immigration Removal Centres for Detained Duty Advice Scheme (DDAS) surgeries will be remunerated.
5. Remote advice will be permitted for DDAS surgeries, subject to the provider's professional discretion and obligations towards vulnerable individuals.

Other areas, such as interpreters' fees and disbursements, will be reviewed and adjusted as necessary.

Despite the Government's belief that a 15% fee increase is sufficient to encourage legal aid providers to undertake IMA work, the consultation response revealed that 95% of respondents viewed the increase as either inadequate or unsuitable. However, the Government maintains that this uplift will enhance capacity among providers, ensuring individuals facing removal have access to legal aid.

The Public Law Project (PLP) criticised the new measures as merely a 'sticking plaster', failing to address the full extent of the access to justice issues in immigration. The PLP highlighted the current crisis in the immigration and asylum legal aid sector, with a shortage of lawyers in many regions. Emma Vincent Miller of the PLP stated, “While no one in the legal aid sector opposes a rise in immigration legal aid fees, increasing rates for IMA work alone is a short-sighted solution. It incentivises providers to prioritise IMA work, potentially neglecting other areas such as assisting with initial asylum claims.”

The Law Society's president, Lubna Shuja, echoed these sentiments, stating that while the new measures are a step in the right direction, they are no substitute for consistently funding the work at sustainable rates. She highlighted the significant backlog of asylum cases and the scarcity of lawyers, particularly in areas where asylum seekers are dispersed. Shuja emphasised the urgent need for accessible legal advice, especially for those facing removal with limited time to secure legal counsel.