Dangerous failings in legal aid and justice systems spotlit in new book
A book published this week by Dr Jo Wilding reveals major systemic failings hindering justice for immigrants, from the Windrush generation to Afghan refugees.
Dr Wilding – Visiting Research Fellow in the University of Brighton’s School of Humanities and Applied Social Science – wrote the book during a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). She is also a working barrister at Garden Court Chambers in London.
Entitled The Legal Aid Market: Challenges for Publicly Funded Immigration and Asylum, Dr Wilding’s book reveals a cruelly dysfunctional system faced by immigrants to the UK seeking legal advice, driven by a combination of badly thought-out immigration laws, chaotic practice and a ‘hostile environment’ generated by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and others.
The book draws on themes from economics, geography, public policy and socio-legal studies to analyse the development of both immigration law and legal aid, showing how failings in both have led to major injustices and individual tragedy.
Dr Wilding said: “When you read about Afghan nationals desperate to escape Kabul, or those already in the UK who are desperate to stay; when you read about people from the Windrush generation, born in the UK and threatened with removal, or children born in the UK but discovered as young adults that they’re not British citizens; when you read about people trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude… All of those people need immigration legal advice, and legal aid is vital to access that advice. Without legal aid, people can’t access their legal rights.
“In England and Wales, legal aid is administered by the government as a ‘market’. In both the book and my recent evidence to the Justice Committee I explain what is going wrong in that market – how the system drives out high-quality practitioners and organisations, and protects the poorest-quality providers, as well as leaving huge geographical gaps in access.”
Dr Wilding’s book presents a rare picture of the barristers, solicitors and caseworkers practising immigration law in both charities and private firms, illuminating high-quality legal aid work/provision, conflicts with financial and legal systems, and how practitioners seek to resolve these. The book also draws parallels with other public services to show how legal aid fits into wider marketised public services which also impact on health, education and welfare.