Leaked documents have shed light on the United Kingdom government’s intentions to detain and deport more than 3,000 asylum seekers every month as part of Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposed asylum bill. The briefing papers indicate that the government aims to implement these measures starting from January 2024.
As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces criticism from Conservative Members of Parliament regarding the record levels of net migration, the leaked documents highlight the potential legal challenges the government could face without a substantial increase in legal aid fees for lawyers providing advice to refugees.
This is the first detailed glimpse into the scale of the task the government faces in implementing Braverman’s bill, which is currently under consideration in the House of Lords. Until now, the Home Office has refrained from releasing the bill’s impact assessment.
The disclosure comes at a time when net migration and the backlog of asylum claims have reached record highs. In response to figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed a 24% increase in overall migration to the UK in 2022 compared to the previous high in 2021, Sunak acknowledged that the numbers should decrease.
The leaked documents, labeled as “urgent,” were prepared for Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, Junior Justice Minister Lord Bellamy, and Antonia Romeo, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice. The purpose was to ensure an adequate number of lawyers would be available to provide advice at immigration detention centers if the bill becomes law.
Under the proposed legislation, individuals who enter the UK without permission would not be allowed to remain to seek asylum. Instead, they would be detained and removed either to their home country or a third country, such as Rwanda.
The documents, based on data from the Home Office, indicate that the department should prepare to hold 1,600 people in detention centers from September, with the number rising to 3,163 per month from January. They highlight the need to engage legal aid providers and potentially increase fees in order to provide access to legal aid for individuals affected by the bill.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, expressed concern that the government, despite its claims, is preparing for mass deportations. He criticized the plan to lock up and deport vulnerable individuals, many of whom would be recognized as refugees if their claims were heard on UK soil.
The documents also recommend increasing legal aid fees by at least 15% to attract solicitors to represent asylum seekers. However, a potential increase of 200% is mentioned but not recommended. Civil servants warn Lord Chancellor Chalk that failure to provide legal advice to detainees could result in a judicial review.
The briefing stresses Chalk’s statutory duty to ensure the availability of legal aid for this group and highlights the potential capacity issues if there are not enough legal aid providers to handle the workload. This could be subject to challenge through judicial review.
At present, hourly rates for immigration solicitors range from £53 to £74. Meetings with specialized firms in the sector revealed that substantial fee increases would be necessary to allocate work on behalf of asylum seekers. The document suggests a recommended 15% increase, potentially raising fees from £53 million to £61 million annually.
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