Government scraps legal aid restrictions for lone child migrants in fresh U-turn
Ministers have reversed their policy on denying legal aid to lone child migrants after a five-year battle by campaigners.
In a major U-turn, justice minister Lucy Frazer said the rules on whether immigration cases can be defended using taxpayers' cash will be loosened.
Labour welcomed the scrapping of the "callous" policy, which the party said "caused unnecessary distress to defenceless children".
Previously only youngsters fighting asylum cases or immigration detention disputes had automatic rights to legal aid - while those at risk of having their human rights breached could apply for special funding.
According to the Children’s Society - which has been locked in a legal battle with the Government over the issue - thousands of children have been denied legal aid since restrictions came into force in 2013.
But in a written statement, Ms Frazer said: “Following a judicial review brought by the Children’s Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding.
“Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice.”
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “The Conservatives should never have implemented these cruel cuts that have caused unnecessary distress to defenceless children.
“This highlights how it is the most vulnerable citizens who have paid the price for the Tories’ vindictive decision to slash funding to our legal aid system.
“If the Government is serious about ending its ‘hostile environment’ for all migrants then it should commit to returning legal aid for all immigration law advice.”
In a statement, the Children’s Society said: “This is brilliant news and an important change that will go a long way to protecting some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged children in our communities.
“We commend the Government on accepting that these young people should be entitled to legal aid and we will work with them to implement changes made as quickly as possible.”
It comes after the Home Office paused a number of data sharing-measures in a bid to relax the so-called ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigration in the wake of the Windrush scandal.