Review of asylum seekers' legal aid fuels cutback fear

FEARS that cuts to the limited legal aid available to asylum seekers are on the cards have mounted after the Government's disclosure that it is conducting a review into the issue.

Discussions between the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Home Office about arrangements for asylum seekers are now under way, although a spokeswoman from the LCD stressed that no decisions had been made.

And the Legal Aid Board has confirmed it is currently reviewing how the merits test is applied in practice, with regard to “the requirement that there should be a reasonable chance of success”.

Asylum seekers can claim legal aid only for judicial review or legal advice leading up to representation and not for representation at hearings or appeals themselves.

But the success rate of applicants is low and it is believed the LAB fears too many applicants are receiving legal aid.

News of the government review coincides with a report published jointly last week by Justice, the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and the Asylum Rights Campaign, which called for widespread reforms to the present system.

The groups recommend an independent and objective documentation centre to assess the strength of claims, published guidelines and improved training for decision-makers.