On the 15th June 2010 – yesterday the Trustees of Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) signed papers to place the charity into administration as a result of a cash flow problem created by late payment of legal aid by the Legal Services Commission. The administrators, BDO, will this afternoon on the 16th June 2010 assume responsible for managing the business.
The failure of the recent Conservative Liberal pact vaunting Big Society and the critical role of Third Sector champions to provide public value for money in this area of legal service provision for our most vulnerable citizens is quite extraordinary. The shortfall is around £1.8 million of back-dated payments. The savings resulting in letting the RMJ go to the wall will when the chips are counted in come to less than zero. Bad debt from the government leading to the collapse of a beacon organisation for enabling efficient and cost effective legal provisioning.
RMJ has currently legal representation of more than 10,000 vulnerable asylum seekers and victims of trafficking on its books, including nearly 900 separated children, whom are now at risk. RMJ also represents over 10 per cent of those currently in detention and many foreign national prisoners.
Paul Gray the chair of the RMJ said ‘This situation is caused by late payment of legal aid by up to two years, not inefficiency or even lack of income: RMJ staff have performed a minor miracle in cutting costs to live with a fall in income per client of over 40%. Late payment has an unequal impact on charities because they cannot get bank loans to finance the cash gap.’
With a number of our Affiliates, and with our Director having worked in both the provisioning of welfare, advice, and expert witness support of those undergoing Asylum claims, with a number of these frequently developing into fully evidenced trafficking network, related survivor claims CCARHT is extraordinarily disturbed by this potential erasure of a highly respected and fully functioning aspect of victim protection.
If RMJ is allowed to ‘go under’ as it looks as though it might, despite a high profile campaign including the voices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ken Loach amongst others, this will represent an appalling wastage in third sector capacity triggered by appalling delays in the realisation of accounts by those administering Legal Aid.
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RMJ provides a critical safety net of expert advice, support and professional legal advocacy, essential at a point where people at their most vulnerable can find themselves without the means to articulate appropriately their entitlement under UN and British law to claim sanctuary and justice in the UK.
A recent Freedom of Information request submitted to the Legal Services Commission revealed around 29% of asylum providers, were doing the minimum possible to advance their clients’ cases, but making massive profits. This has gone unchecked whilst quality representatives such as RMJ being fully briefed by their clients to complete cases and see justice done are being starved of cash. Some payments to the RMJ have been delayed by up to 2 years! No business can run like this, and certainly professional legal services which on legal aid are cut pretty close to the bone and are not the Fat Cat bonus laden arenas which many place all legal work within, has not a hope of surviving in straightened times.
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