CALLING ALL LAWYERS!
FiLiA is launching a pilot project designed to connect asylum-seeking and undocumented women in Manchester with expert legal advice.
We are looking for solicitors and OISC firms to sign up to our FiLiA Immigration Action Project to defend some of the most vulnerable in the system. Those who work with us will need to be sensitive to women's specific issues within the immigration system, and experienced in fresh claim and Article 8 work. You would also have a legal aid contract or be willing to offer at least two pro bono cases per year.
Cases would come via a co-ordinated FiLiA team working with migrant women's groups in Manchester. Affiliated solicitors would be entitled to display the FiLiA logo to indicate their commitment to women's rights in immigration.
To get involved please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As FiLiA moves around the UK, we intend to leave a project behind. We do not want to arrive in a town, put on a conference and just leave; we are committed to lasting change for women and girls to arise out of our work and in collaboration with existing groups in the area.
The 2018 project is done in association with Women Asylum Seekers Together and Lesbian Immigration Support Group. It is intended to support those groups.
When FiLiA initially spoke to WAST and LISG, they emphasised the lack of access to legal advice to their service users. Greater Manchester is a known ‘legal aid desert’ where the number of legal aid providers has plummeted, and access to justice correspondingly difficult to obtain despite the sterling efforts of the remaining advisory bodies. This is particularly true for women, who often have caring responsibilities standing in the way of being able to drop everything for a last minute appointment, and who are even less likely than men to have the funds to pay privately, and even more so for migrant women who may not have enough English to communicate their legal needs.
Our first thought was to set up an immigration advice drop-in, as this could be provided via one of our Trustees. However, drop-in clinics suffer from a number of difficulties. The main one is sustaining enthusiasm: an advice clinic which relies on the goodwill of lawyers to travel up from other areas at their own expense and dispense advice is one which will inevitably lose momentum. Another is the rigidity of the model; it requires those in need of the advice to be in a specific time at a specific place. The third is that it requires the lawyers to triage the cases prior to taking them on, and much time can be wasted in assessing whether or not someone has a viable case rather than getting on with the work needed for those who do have a case which can be progressed. This in turn feeds into the slowing of momentum.
We have nevertheless set up three drop-in sessions to take place prior to the conference to deal with urgent need.
Going forward we are setting up a dual project:
The first part of the project is an Immigration Action Project. The model is simple: women sign up via WAST and LISG meetings with FiLiA and their case is triaged by our specialist. If there is a viable case, it will be sent on to a lawyer.
Lawyers are assured that the case will be arguable (and for those who need a brief advice from Counsel to satisfy the Legal Aid Agency, that can be provided) and they will be entitled to display the FiLiA logo as a “Women’s Immigration Law Champion.” They will also be entitled to free CPD training on women’s particular needs in immigration law.
The aim of this project is therefore simply to connect unrepresented women who have an arguable case with a lawyer who can help them, either via legal aid or on a pro bono basis.
This aims to be a self-sustaining project. We are looking for funds to train some of the women at WAST and LISG (by necessity those who already have leave to remain) as OISC advisers. This will entitle them to provide immigration advice to others.
The aim of this project is that
Women who wish to undertake this training will then have a career path as immigration advisers, which is much in demand, and gives them a path into the workforce and to progress as caseworkers if they so choose. It also provides a sound basis for moving on to careers in (for example) local government, some forms of advocacy, other paralegal positions or, with further education and training, as solicitors or barristers. This is personally and collectively empowering to the women;
Those who are trained as OISC advisers will be able to advise other women within the group, which makes the project self sustaining as it will no longer be reliant on lawyers outside the group coming from further afield to advise;
Once other women secure leave to remain, they in turn can be trained if they so choose, again providing them with a secure career path and the opportunity to continue the project by advising others within their group.