• 23 Nov 2015
  • | Sarah Cutler

By young people, for young people: immigration and legal support

What do you do if you have a problem or need advice? My bet is you probably ‘google it’, or ask a friend what they think you should do – perhaps both. For young people in the UK who need legal help with an immigration problem, neither option is very reliable.

Immigration rules and laws are notoriously complex, changing with bewildering frequency. By definition, children and young people in the UK without permanent leave to remain or UK citizenship will need legal help to sort out their status and make the correct applications to the Home Office. Yet since April 2013, when legal aid cuts removed the bulk of free advice and representation, and with charity sources of help massively oversubscribed, many young people have been thrust into the open market. As customers of private law firms, how do they know what to expect? How to choose a good lawyer and what to do if things go wrong?

A new film made by and for young people aims to provide some answers. The vibrant and engaging short film was designed, filmed and narrated by young people at Brighter Futures, a self help advocacy group at East London’s Praxis Community Projects.

One young man, who lost his income and his housing because of delays by his lawyer, explains their motivation for making the film:  “As a young person, I wouldn’t want any other young person to get into that situation with their solicitor.”

Another, who saw his mum pay “£10,000 for a case with no hope” wants to try to make sure this doesn’t happen to others.

Step by step, it guides young people through what to expect when finding a solicitor, reminds them to check whether they are entitled to free help, and addresses some common questions and misconceptions (for example, just because a lawyer is free, it doesn’t mean their advice is poor quality). The film also packs in practical tips on getting a good service (ask for a receipt, get copies of your documents, be on time for your appointment) and some striking animation. Interviews with lawyers remind young people that a lawyers’ overriding duty is to protect their client’s best interest and that they must always respect their confidentiality.

The film reminds us all, with beautiful simplicity and clarity, that the stakes are high for these young people, and that they are best placed to set out how lawyers should work with them. Their positivity about the potential for things to get better is clear in their summary of what makes a good lawyer – ‘responsive’, ‘friendly’, ‘polite’, ‘focused’.

Emma Gardiner, who supports the work of the group, tells me their next step is to see if they can involve young people in training lawyers, once they have finished the translated versions of the film. I really hope that many young people and lawyers get to see this great resource and it can contribute to a better service for those who need it most.

This film was funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation as part of the Supported Options Initiative. Supported Options is delivered in partnership with Unbound Philanthropy. It encourages and supports innovation in helping children and young people with irregular immigration status in the UK

Find out more the about Supported Options Initiative


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