Cut off from Justice: The impact of excluding separated and migrant children from legal aid

Helen Connolly, Richard Crellin and Rupinder Parhar - University of Bedfordshire & The Children's Society

Executive summary

All children and young people in the UK should be kept safe and have equal access to justice, regardless of where they were born. However, sweeping changes made to legal aid provision for immigration cases have put some of the most vulnerable children in this country at serious risk and unable to get the help they need.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) dramatically cut legal aid, with all non-asylum immigration claims falling out of scope. This has cut off children from the justice system, often leaving them alone and unable to pursue their immigration claim.

These changes to legal aid have been particularly pernicious for unaccompanied and separated children, who are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. They are migrant children, outside their home country, who have been separated from their parents (or other primary caregiver) and are alone in the UK. They may be living with a member of their extended family, within community networks, or are in local authority care as a looked-after child because there is no one else to care for them.

This report updates our findings in Cut Off from Justice (2015) four years after the introduction of LASPO. It highlights the needs of unaccompanied and separated children in a system that often renders them invisible, harming both their childhood and their future.