Bishop of Newcastle welcomes legal aid decision for unaccompanied and separated children of immigrants

newcastle230119bOn 1st October 2019 Lord Keen of Elie moved a draft order for approval: the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Legal Aid for Separated Children) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019. The motion was agreed by the House, and the Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, contributed to the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Children’s Society. I want to share my delight in the work of the Children’s Society and other children’s charities in helping to bring us to this point.

I warmly welcome the draft order amending the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children within the scope of legal aid. That is a wonderful thing. Without this amendment, children outside their country of origin who are separated from their parent or care giver are at significant risk. The reinstatement of legal aid for separated children will be transformative for some of the most vulnerable children in our country.

However, welcome as the amendment is, it still leaves unresolved, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said, the needs of these vulnerable young people when they transition to adulthood if their immigration status at that point is still uncertain or temporary. On the day a young person turns 18, everything changes. Protections that have been in place can disappear overnight. This is particularly the case for children in local authority care who become care leavers. The noble Earl referred to this issue in an earlier Question on homelessness. Once children turn 18, immigration legislation kicks in. Where a young person in care has uncertain immigration status, they are particularly at risk of having support from local authorities withdrawn, and they can all too easily become destitute and homeless.

I ask the Minister to assure us that he recognises the vulnerability of care leavers at the age of 18 who have not been able up to that point to regularise their immigration status, and to assure this House that the Government still intend to introduce a presumption of exceptional care funding for care leavers so that they can access legal aid at this critical point in their lives.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD): [extract] My Lords, I, too, welcome this order and thank the Minister for introducing and explaining it. I also welcome the comments made initially by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, regarding the position of care leavers and new adults, those points being echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. …

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): [extract] My Lords, like others, I unreservedly and wholeheartedly support the order before us today. However, I have to say that the congratulations should go not to the Minister but to the Children’s Society. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle made similar comments. …

…Does the Minister know how many separated migrant children are in local authority care, and could be expected to benefit from the change? I think that the noble Earl, Earl Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle made very powerful points about the position of children when they turn 18. This is a problem for any care leaver, but I think it is particularly relevant to separated migrant children. …


%d bloggers like this: