This week Islington Law Centre, in central London, saw two significant legal victories that will change the way immigration is managed in the UK.
On Monday the Court of Appeal ruled that legal aid should be available for complex immigration cases, such as those of people fighting deportation. In doing so it branded Legal Aid Agency guidance on Exceptional Case Funding ‘unlawful’ because it is too restrictive. The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court decision, which the Legal Aid Agency had appealed.
The judges discussed the cases of six individuals together, including one represented by Islington Law Centre’s Roopa Tanna, instructing Alison Pickup and Paul Bowen QC of Doughty Street Chambers. Their client, Ms B, is an Iranian refugee separated from her husband and teenage son who were arrested, abused and interrogated by the authorities in Iran. She had sought family reunion visas for them, but when Islington Law Centre, a charity, applied for legal aid to help her do so, it was declined twice – prompting this legal action.
On Tuesday the Court of Appeal also ruled that the detention of asylum seekers who are not at risk of absconding while their case is being decided was unlawful. The High Court had already ruled in July that the Home Office’s operation of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) scheme was ‘indefensible’.
With this appeal the very legality of the DFT scheme (and not just how it was operated) was put to the test - and found unlawful. The charity Detention Action, which brought the case, had unsuccessfully tried twice before to challenge DFT. However, in July and again this week it saw success through its work with Sonal Ghelani of the Migrants’ Law Project at Islington Law Centre, which instructed Nathalie Lieven QC of Landmark Chambers.
Law Centres seek to uphold justice not just by helping disadvantaged people with their legal problems but also by seeking to change practices and the law for the better. These two rulings are great examples of strategic litigation, and of its impact on advancing justice for people and society as a whole.
Our congratulations go out to Islington Law Centre – we are all the richer for your work!