Why the state should provide early legal advice to refugees

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Opinion: Early legal advice and assistance would benefit both the state and claimants, resulting in higher quality decisions and fewer appeals

The rights of applicants for international protection, asylum seekers and refugees have been in the spotlight over the past two years. It’s as a result of moves like Black Lives Matter globally and end the direct supply to Ireland and the war in Ukraine. But providing early legal advice and assistance to applicants for international protection – in areas that in many cases could mean life or death – is simply not a state priority here.

How the Irish system of international protection works

The Irish system of international protection consists of six steps: a request to the International Protection Officea preliminary interview, the filing of a quiz, a personal interview, the first instance status decision and the appeal process. Legal advice and assistance is mandated by law only at the sixth and final stage of appeal, rather than at the start of the process.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland, Enda O’Neill from the UN Refugee Agency on refugees struggling to find accommodation in Ireland after applying for international protection.

The questionnaire includes a detailed 39-page booklet and must be submitted within 20 working days of the asylum application. Responses should include all relevant information on the reason for the request, the applicant’s possible authorization to stay for humanitarian reasons and family reunification. Due to the importance and weight of the information provided in this questionnaire, the International Protection Office recommends that applicants seek legal advice before submitting it. Yet reports To display that 84% of candidates complete the questionnaire by themselves, without any help.

The personal interview is conducted by a Protection Officer some eight to ten months after the initial application is filed. The questions mainly depend on the content of the questionnaire, where the answers or lack of answers of the applicant are examined. This is the first meaningful opportunity for the applicant to explain their story and support their application for international protection. Once again, most applicants in Ireland do not have legal representation at this stage.

The importance of legal advice and assistance

Since the majority of applicants for international protection do not have a lawyer present during the interview, they are required to self-represent their case to the protection officer. When English is not their first language, they are assigned a translator. Which causes various challenges due to the system’s reliance on translators to accurately present and translate information, ensure candidates have the best opportunity to make their case.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne, The Irish Examiner’s Daniel McConnell and KOD Lyons Law’s Stephen Kirwan on the new visa requirements for refugees in Ireland

Miscarriages of justice can occur throughout the international protection process in the absence of adequate legal advice and assistance, particularly during the interview phase. This may involve the possibility of inappropriate interrogation conditionsas well as the probability of false, misleading or coerced testimony.

Early legal advice and assistance would benefit both the state and claimants, resulting in higher quality first instance decisions and fewer appeals. With the help of qualified legal representation, the plaintiff would be able to provide the strongest case possible. Therefore, the decision maker would be better able to provide a detailed rationale for their decision, as it would be Better know with the facts of the case. It would be reduce the number of appeals which arise from the fact that applicants do not receive legal assistance for their application before the appeal stage. Initiating the legal assistance process earlier will also foster strong ties and cooperation between the applicant and his legal representative.

Other jurisdictions To display that there is a strong correlation between the provision of early legal advice and a low rate of overturned decisions. For instance, Ireland has an overturned decision rate of 33.37% compared to Swedena country with an early legal advice system, which has a cancellation rate of 7%.

Without early legal advice, Ireland will continue to fail to meet its international and EU obligations

The approach of providing early legal advice has been pilot twice in the UK. Research reports from pilot projects have illustrated the benefits of this approach, while emphasizing the need for increased resources to ensure fertility. Unfortunately, due to lack of political will, the concept has not been adopted throughout the UK system. Recent developments involving the relocation of asylum seekers in Rwanda challenged the UK’s commitment to upholding human rights and international law.

What can be done?

In order to introduce a system of early legal advice in Ireland, the State should first opt ​​for the EU law Directive on the redesign of asylum procedures, which guarantees legal assistance to applicants for international protection before the first instance decision. More resources in terms of staff and funding within legal aid services are obligatory create a service that provides quality early legal advice. Many strikes across the country this year have Underline the low remuneration currently offered to contract legal practitioners under the legal aid system. This is a critical issue that must be addressed to recruit and retain practitioners.

The Legal Aid Commission, which provides limited counseling services, is located only in major cities, making it less accessible to all applicants. Other leads should be exploredwhere services can be offered in all direct delivery centers and communities.

Without providing early legal advice, Ireland will continue to fail in its international and EU legal obligations to develop and maintain an effective and efficient asylum system, which supports and responds appropriately to the needs of applicants for international protection and the State.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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