Ahmed, a survivor or torture from Iran, was represented by GMIAU. Before meeting the solicitor from GMIAU, he had made two suicide attempts and was experiencing trauma symptoms including nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
In all the early sessions with his counsellor and interpreter, Ahmed was so disturbed he was unable to respond to any questions asked by the counsellor. He would freeze and be unable to speak. If there was a desk in the room, he would fall completely silent and often leave the room, as the desk reminded him of his interrogation cell. Ahmed’s lawyer at that time was in London, but Ahmed was too psychologically disturbed to make the journey and often missed appointments.
GMIAU agreed to meet him and a solicitor spoke to him through his familiar counselling interpreter. The experience and skill of his solicitor in working with clients experiencing mental health problems and within a familiar setting that felt safe meant that Ahmed was able to disclose the information necessary to make a fresh claim. Ahmed was subsequently granted indefinite leave to remain.
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), specialists in representing torture survivors in the North West of the UK, will have their funds cut by 70% in November leaving it unable to provide new legal support to the number of people it currently is able to.
Jude Boyles, Centre Manager at the Medical Foundation North West explains what the cuts at GMIAU mean: “When the Legal Services Commission changed its funding system, experienced not-for-profit legal firms specialising in complex cases, including representing torture survivors, saw their new funding contracts cut significantly. What that means is that there will be fewer experienced legal representatives available to support some of the most vulnerable people in society. With poor quality advice we are extremely concerned that torture survivors will be removed to countries were they could face further torture and in some cases, death”.
The damage that changes to the legal aid system continue to cause for some of the most vulnerable people in society is a worrying trend which could result in more torture survivors facing real difficulty in finding experienced and specialist lawyers to represent them in what is often an already traumatic process.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC), runs the legal aid scheme in England and Wales and its work is overseen by the Ministry of Justice. It has an annual budget of £2 billion per year and through its legal aid schemes, some of its work includes funding solicitors to represent people who would otherwise not be able to pay for legal representation.
In October 2007, the LSC introduced a new funding system in which legal firms were requested to bid for legal aid contracts and meet a set of assessment criteria. The problem with the new funding system is that many legal specialists with expertise in working with vulnerable people lost their bids and instead other firms without experience in working with vulnerable groups won the contracts – subsequently there is a smaller pool of expert organisations available to adequately support torture survivors.
Take action now!
Email your local member of parliament at ‘Contact your Politician’ requesting that they:
* Raise concerns in parliament that the changes implemented by the LSC to legal aid, including legal aid cuts, are having a detrimental impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society including torture survivors, who without specialist legal representation to support their asylum claims, could face return to countries where they are at risk of further persecution.
Email Jonathan Djanogly, Minister Responsible for Legal Aid and Legal Services, now and demand that he:
* Urgently reviews the changes to legal aid made by the LSC and their impact on torture survivors;
* Ask what measures are being undertaken to ensure that torture survivors have access to specialist legal representation so as to ensure that they are not returned to countries where they are at risk of further persecution;
* Emphasise the individual’s fundamental right to be free from torture and ill-treatment in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which the UK is a state party.
GMIAU campaign http://www.gmiau.org