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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Asylum seekers 'denied justice'
Failed asylum seekers are escorted onto plane
Critics say the changes mean asylum seekers are more likely to be deported
Asylum seekers in England and Wales are being denied legal aid because of funding changes, two charities say.

Torture survivors, trafficking victims and children are among those unable to obtain legal advice, say Asylum Aid and Bail for Immigration Detainees.

They say some areas have little or no publicly-funded legal service, and some applicants are being removed because they cannot present their cases.

A government spokeswoman said the rules meant legal aid was properly targeted.

The spokeswoman from the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said the government spent 204m on asylum legal aid in 2003/04, "substantially more" than in the previous year.

Asylum seekers... are facing removal from the UK without key facts in their cases even being considered by the Home Office or the court
Sarah Cutler, Bail for Immigration Detainees

The department said the measures were designed to target cases which had a real prospect of success.

The charities' report, called Justice Denied: Asylum and Immigration Legal Aid - a System in Crisis, was based on 78 interviews with asylum seekers and workers in the field.

Maurice Wren of Asylum Aid, co-author of the report, said people were being denied "the right to a fair hearing".

The two groups are calling for action by the government and the Legal Services Commission, the body which makes decisions on legal aid funding.

'Persecution or death'

The changes introduced in 2004 included solicitors being paid a fixed amount - generally equivalent to 30 minute's work - when preparing a case for a legal aid funding application.

However, critics of the system say it takes an average of two to three hours work to present a proper case.

"Many law firms have pulled out of asylum and immigration work altogether, or have significantly reduced the amount of work they are able to take on, allowing rogue firms to flourish," the report said.

More stringent qualification requirements for those involved in giving legal advice had also led to a drop in numbers, the report added.

Sarah Cutler of BiD said the changes meant many asylum seekers were being deported to face "persecution or even death".

"Asylum seekers who are badly represented or cannot find publicly-funded legal representation are facing removal from the UK without key facts in their cases even being considered by the Home Office or the courts," Ms Cutler said.

A government spokeswoman said the Legal Services Commission was confident that there was a "more than adequate number of quality suppliers" in London and the South East.

But the commission was aware that there were some supply issues in other areas and was taking measures to address them, she added.

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