11 July 2014

A new report shows that early quality legal advice for asylum seekers improves the quality of decisions and increases the confidence of all parties in the decision making process.

The study by the Irish Refugee Council, Asylum Aid, the Estonian Human Rights Centre and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), also underlines the obstacles to effective early legal advice. In particular, early legal advice can be undermined by the practice of dispersal whereby an asylum seeker is moved away from the location of the legal advisor before the first decision, the restrictions on access to those in detention and the short time allocated in some cases to the submission of supporting evidence.

Three countries were examined – Ireland, UK, and Estonia – all of which have some form of legal advice, assistance and representation but this was not always paid for by the state or at the earliest opportunity. The report recommends state resources are made available to ensure that qualified lawyers with an expertise in the field are available to those seeking asylum at the earliest opportunity and that the quality of that work should be evaluated The authors argue that the more individuals are deprived of early legal advice in complex legal systems, exacerbated by language and cultural barriers in the case of asylum seekers, the longer and often more expensive the process becomes.

The research underlines the difference between legal advice and legal information: “Information about the process, no matter how detailed and well intentioned, [is] not the same as a legal advisor using their particular expertise and knowledge to enable the asylum seeker to tell their story in their own words and advise and assist in supporting the application, including at critical stages such as the interview”.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 11 July 2014.
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