Legal advice for immigration
applications 'not necessary',
says Home Office

The Home Office has surprised campaign groups and contradicted a judge in the Court of Appeal by stating that ‘obtaining legal advice is not necessary in making an immigration application’.

Commenting in relation to the Windrush compensation scheme, which does not allow for a full refund in legal costs, it continued:

‘No advantage in the application process should accrue to people who choose to access, and are able to afford legal advice, over those who cannot.’

In 2015, Lord Justice Elias said of another case:

‘I cannot leave this judgement without observing how abstruse the law has become in this area.

‘That is always a weakness but particularly so when so many immigrants are litigants in person with precious little, if any, understanding of English law.

‘The overriding impression given is that the rules are changed in a piecemeal way.

‘Firefighting is not the way to produce a consistent set of rules; and the process does not sit easily with the rule of law, and in particular the principle that litigants should be able to discover the laws applicable to their circumstances.’

His opinion was echoed by Right to Remain, who said the government’s position was ‘patently ridiculous’, especially as legal aid has been cut and policy changes make it harder to meet the criteria for application.

It added:

‘Immigration law is an incredibly fast-changing and complex area of law.

‘Refusals of applications can result in family separation, human rights breaches, destitution, detention and removal from the UK (or refusal of entry in the first place).

‘More and more people have no lawyer at all and are forced to navigate this very complicated system without legal representation.

‘That’s why, sadly, our work helping people to navigate the baffling, labyrinthine and often cruel procedures is more in demand than ever.’

Barrister and editor of the Free Movement website, Colin Yeo, believes it was ‘utterly absurd’ for the government to suggest that legal advice is not needed for immigration applications.

He said:

‘They are so complex you are putting your head in the lion’s mouth if you try it yourself these days.’

Suffice to say, Smith Stone Walters concurs with this assessment. During the past 18 years in business, we have witnessed the UK immigration system evolve into an patchwork of rules and policies. More often than not, these changes seem to be cobbled together without proper thought or preparation.

Given the difficulty practitioners themselves have in keeping abreast of the constant modifications in the UK rules, what hope does a migrant have of understanding them?

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