Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press Notice no 25 of Session 2002-03            31 October 2003


The Government needs to re-think its proposed changes to publicly funded immigration and asylum work, according to a cross-party report issued today by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.

The Committee, which has taken evidence on the Government's proposals to set stringent limits on the time and costs that could be spent on individual cases, believes that the scheme is "hurried and not obviously thought through."

MPs agree with the Government's contention that poor quality representation in publicly funded immigration and asylum work needs to be rooted out, and good quality suppliers encouraged.  However, they go on to say that the Government's approach may not help to reduce the legal aid budget and that the proposals, if implemented, could compromise the quality of representation available.  The findings have prompted the Committee to call for a Government moratorium on time and funding limits until a properly considered package of reforms is brought forward.

Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said:

"We agree with the Government that public money must being spent properly and that quality must be spent properly and that quality must be guaranteed.  Unfortunately, the proposed scheme would not have achieved this.

Just before we published our report the Government radically altered its plans, and the Home Secretary announced an amnesty which would lead to significant saving.  While we welcome some of the changes, it is clear that the Government needs to provide more detail about its new proposals and must provide further guarantees that quality will be assured.  Different parts of the Government dealing with asylum and immigration also need to start communicating with each other.  It looks as if the Department for Constitutional Affairs have not taken the financial implications of the Home Office announcement into account, even though they call into question the whole basis of the argument that costs will continue to increase."

The report also includes a number of specific recommendations:

•    The category of "genuine and complex" cases should be sufficiently broadly defined to meet a number of concerns raised in the report.

•    Attendance by representatives at Home Office interviews should be allowed in cases where the representative is able to justify his or her attendance;  and the costs of such attendance should not be included within the threshold for Legal Help, but be claimable separately.

•    The Legal Services Commission should consult on its revised proposals for interpreters' costs.

•    Provision should be made where necessary for conferences with counsel to take place before the day of the hearing (rather than at a hearing, as originally suggested by the LSC)

•    When there is a change of legal representation, a fresh Advice Limit or threshold should be allowed where justified.