Extremely limited access to legal representation in immigration detention, BID survey confirms


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Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is an independent charity that has existed since 1999, providing free advice to those in immigration detention, whilst simultaneously campaigning for the abolition of immigration detention. 

The approaches of BID and Right to Remain mirror each other: we know that we cannot change the system without understanding how it operates – so empowerment, knowing our rights, and campaigning all go hand in hand.

Every 6 months, BID surveys the reality of access to legal advice in immigration detention centres in the UK. The Summer 2023 report has now been published, and it exposes the stark lack of access to legal advice, and immigration advice in particular, for those in detention. 

What does the survey expose?

The survey, as expected, exposes the serious lack of access to legal advice or knowledge of one’s rights in immigration detention in the UK. 

People who are detained in the UK have a right to legal advice and legal procedures (note: we believe that they should not be detained at all). In reality, many people in immigration detention have no idea what their rights are, whether or how they can get out of detention, or even if they have the right to legal advice at all. 

Of the 40 people in detention who answered BID’s summer survey, they had all been detained for an average of 121 days (4 months), at different immigration detention centres. 14 people were held in Harmondsworth, 12 were held in Colnbrook, 10 were held in Yarl’s Wood, 3 were held in Brook House, and 1 was held in Dungavel. Of those who did not have legal representation, a lack of finances was identified as a huge obstacle. 

The report states that – 

Respondents were asked how not having a lawyer has affected their case, and 11 people responded. Three people said that this has meant they do not know what to do. Two people said that being unrepresented resulted in their bail application being refused. Two people said that this meant they had to figure out the next steps alone. Two people said that it was difficult to figure out what to do and it was difficult to find beneficial information for their case. One person stated that this had meant they were left waiting to be deported, and one person said this had negatively impacted their case.”

Lack of access to key information

The Detention Duty Advice Scheme (DDA) is a right that everyone in immigration detention is entitled to. The DDA is operated by the Legal Aid Agency and allows for each person who is detained to receive up to 30 minutes, typically face-to-face with a lawyer in the detention centre who will assess whether their case has ‘merit’ (this means potential). The DDA was created to make up for the fact that many immigration and detention legal matters are no longer covered by Legal Aid

While 75% of those who participated in BID’s summer survey said they knew they could get free legal advice, the remaining 25% did not know. 

Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) was also introduced as a result of immigration cases being taken out of the scope of Legal Aid. It allows people to apply for Legal Aid funding if their case is exceptional (for instance, if the decision made by the Home Office would breach their human rights). Participants in BID’s survey were asked if they were told about ECF, and of the 11 who answered, 10 people said they had not been informed of this

If you’d like to learn more about Exceptional Case Funding, have a read of BID’s Hurdle after Hurdle report.

Lack of internet access

Although our work at Right to Remain is centred around providing this beneficial information which is so crucial to everyone who is engaged with the immigration and asylum system in one way or another, another key finding of the report shows why it is so hard for this information to reach those held in immigration detention centres: the severe lack of access to the internet and key information. We are committed to getting around these obstacles and ensuring access to information about rights before, during, and after detention for all those impacted in 2024 and beyond. 

The BID report identifies this as an issue, too. In detention centres, people do not typically have access to their phones and internet use is limited to what is available in the internet rooms. 

Practical obstacles to using internet services exposed in the report include: difficulty to search for what is needed in one’s own language, the computer rooms are always packed (which is especially challenging for those who are claustrophobic), there is often long queue to get to the internet room, bad internet signal, broken equipment and not enough equipment for everyone in there, functions like copy and paste do not work, and many key websites are blocked.

This report is an extremely important read. We thank BID for all the work that they do. 

Read the full report here, and support BID’s crucial work here.  

To learn more about the realities of immigration detention in the UK, read about our day shadowing the Gatwick Detainee Welfare group.


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Please note Right to Remain cannot provide immigration legal advice that is specific to your individual asylum and immigration application.

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