Today, in the latest courtroom defeat for the government, judges ruled that the guidance on the granting of legal aid for immigration cases was unlawful.
Quashing refusals of civil legal aid in six cases, Mr Justice Collins said it was ”a fundamental principle that anyone in the UK is subject to its laws and is entitled to their protection”. All the cases concern the availability of legal aid in immigration cases under Section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Laspo), which deals with exceptional funding applications.
Laspo effectively ended access to legal aid for a wide range of immigration cases, including family rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. People in detention defending their right to stay in the UK must either find money to pay a lawyer, or attempt to represent themselves. They may have the right in law to stay with their families – but, at least until now, the law has not been accessible.
To mark today’s ruling, we share Matthew’s story, originally published in our latest report – The State of Detention:
I came to the UK alone, when I was 14 years old.
I lived on the streets. I got in trouble. I was arrested a few times for petty crimes.
In 2010, I was arrested for common assault. My sentence only a few weeks but when it was added to my previous ones, they all came to a year.
Since then, the Home Office have kept me in detention.
They are trying to deport me.
My daughter is seven.
These are my facts.
When I think back to my country of origin all I can only remember is the government forces beating me, and my parents. I cannot picture where I lived, or what I used to do. I cannot remember the language or the landscape. From my youth, right up until this moment – stuck in detention with no end in sight – I am British. It is not a question of passports or ID numbers. This is how I grew up. I raised myself in Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham. English is my language.
I am emotionally connected to things here but my daughter is the umbilical cord. She binds me to Britain. If the Home Office had any interest in my story, they would see how crazy and sad this cycle is: my parents were taken away from me and now they are trying to take me away from my only daughter. They are hoping I will ‘disappear’ too. They want me to sign to go back to where I was born. But this is a place where I have nobody, where I don’t know the culture, and where I have been told (personally, by staff at my country’s embassy) that I will be arrested the second I arrive.
Nobody told me I wasn’t allowed to have a child in this country. Sometimes, I wish they had. Not that I don’t love my daughter more than anything else in the world – I would die for her. But because we are both suffering now. There are no words to explain how it feels to have your daughter grow up away from you. It tears me apart. I am a silhouette of a father, not the real thing. I would not wish it on anyone. When I was at a different Immigration Removal Centre, I would see more of her but now we are far away from each other. She last visited two months ago. I speak to her every day, and she sends me presents and I get her school reports….but it is no way to raise a child. The worst thing is I cannot give her any answers. She often asks me why I am locked up here but it is difficult to explain because I don’t really understand myself. The only thing we both know for certain is I love her.
I take full responsibility for my actions, but this separation is criminal. Sometimes I wish nobody had told me about Article 8 – that I have the right to family life and that this is supposed to be part of British law. I get angry when I think about it because I know I cannot access it. It feels like the Government is doing everything it can to stop me from being with my daughter. Laspo is just another part of this. Access to legal aid was already very bad, but with the cuts, I had to represent myself. Everything dried up. My Article 8 case was buried.
I think Theresa May MP is probably very happy about this. She says her job is to deport foreigners. She is very passionate about this work (although I am sure the Home Secretary must have other responsibilities?). She seems to care much less about the British justice system. My time in this country or my indefinite detention or the rights of my child are even less relevant to her. She does not know the things I will suffer if I am deported and she does not care. I am just a number she thinks she can turn into a vote, somewhere else. Laspo is about politics, not law.
Me and my daughter demand an end to the separation of families by immigration detention.