Asylum support and the right to dignity
The current sessions cover four areas: Since 2009 our lawyers have provided free legal advice and representation at the Asylum Support Tribunal (AST) in London to some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.
The work is high pressure but also has an extraordinary impact. The project is a leading illustration of so-called ‘secondary specialism’, with our lawyers being intensively trained to deliver outstanding quality advice in a discrete area of law beyond their commercial practice.
‘Asylum support’ refers to the very limited housing and welfare support available to some asylum seekers and former asylum seekers, who are generally not allowed to work and are excluded from mainstream benefits – so asylum support is usually the only thing to keep them from street homelessness.
‘Representation increases the chance of a successful appeal from 39 per cent to 71 per cent.’
When asylum support is refused or withdrawn, there is a right of appeal to the AST, but no public funding for legal representation. Most of the appellants are destitute and speak little English; many are street homeless, and some suffer from serious mental and physical health problems, sometimes the effect of torture or rape.
This project focuses on a discrete area of law so that our volunteers can develop appropriate expertise; they go through intensive training, provided by the charity Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP), which includes a two-day training course, shadowing of experienced representatives and representation under observation. Our lawyers then keep up to date through regular attendance (each spends a whole day at the AST every six to eight weeks, typically representing two to three clients each time), through update meetings and through ASAP’s active email group.
In most cases, the documents are not available before the appellant arrives at the AST, so our lawyers typically only have between 20 and 45 minutes to:
before representing the client in the contested hearing. Clients are often stressed, tired and hungry having travelled to the tribunal in East London from as far away as Newcastle or Liverpool on the morning of the appeal.
‘Many of the clients I meet at ASAP have fled torture or abuse in their home countries, and are either street homeless or will become homeless in the next few days if they lose their appeals.’
Representation has been found to increase the chances of a successful appeal from 39 per cent to 71 per cent. After a successful appeal, the client leaves with an immediate right to shelter and support.
‘I really enjoy volunteering for ASAP because it gives me the opportunity to help people who might otherwise be forced into destitution without any access to legal representation,’ says Associate Ella Davies, London dispute resolution. ‘Many of the clients I meet at ASAP have fled torture or abuse in their home countries, and are either street homeless or will become homeless in the next few days if they lose their appeals. For instance, I represented a failed asylum seeker who had a baby in hospital in intensive care. He had no permanent place to stay and was being put up by a local charity on a short-term basis and occasionally sleeping on a chair in the hospital. The Home Office were arguing that his baby was not his ‘‘dependent’’ since he was not married to the child’s mother. The client was really distressed at having to leave his partner and child and travel to London for the hearing. He won the appeal and was given accommodation near the hospital.’