“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Liverpool Law Clinic launches Statelessness project

4 October 2013 | Frances Meyler and Dr Sarah Woodhouse, Co-Directors of the Liverpool Law Clinic

On 2 October 2013, Liverpool Law Clinic marked the launch of its Statelessness project by hosting a free seminar on 'Statelessness - An overview of developments in the UK and globally'. Guest speakers at the event were Dr Laura van Waas (LLM, PhD), Senior Researcher and Manager of the Statelessness Programme, Tilburg, Netherlands and Chris Nash, International Protection Policy Co-ordinator, Asylum Aid, London.

 Dr van Waas gave an introduction to the international framework and conceptual issues surrounding statelessness and an overview of global issues and developments. Chris Nash then introduced the work of the European Network on Statelessness and gave an overview of recent developments in the UK, focusing on the research findings in the joint report by UNHCR/Asylum Aid ‘Mapping Statelessness in the UK’ and the new statelessness recognition procedure in the UK. The seminar was very well attended by students, academics, practitioners and members of the refugee charitable sector. The video recording of the seminar will soon be available to view on our website: http://www.liv.ac.uk/law/liverpool-law-clinic/

The event celebrated the launch of Liverpool Law Clinic’s Free Legal Advice for Migrants and Asylum-seekers (‘FLAMA’), a pro bono service in which final year undergraduate law students at the University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice assist in representing immigrants and asylum-seekers, under close supervision of two in-house solicitors and an in house barrister, who are experienced immigration practitioners and retain conduct of all cases. Liverpool Law Clinic chose Statelessness as the focus of its first immigration project as a timely response to both the legal aid crisis and the opportunity presented by the statelessness determination procedure, introduced in the UK in April of this year.

The UK is a party to and ratified both of the Statelessness Conventions in 1954 and 1961. However, until 6 April 2013, there was no procedure for recognising Stateless people in the UK, nor for granting them leave to remain, other than a short-lived policy outside of the Rules that lasted from 1998 to 2002. This was exacerbated by a failure to record or even to notice that there is an issue of statelessness. An excellent joint research project by Asylum Aid and UNHCR drew attention to the plight of stateless people living in the UK in 2011. Many of those whose stories are recorded in the report had lived in destitution for years and often had no route out of their predicament: they had reached an unenviable “dead end” of a failed asylum claim with no prospect of documentation and return, nor of making an alternative application.

With the advent of the new procedure in April these individuals now have the possibility of regularising their status and finding a path out of limbo. But a major obstacle is that following recent legal aid reforms those applying under the new procedure are not eligible for free legal advice and assistance. This risks seriously undermining the efficacy of the new procedure.

Liverpool Law Clinic’s Statelessness Project aims to help fill this gap through its pro bono representation service while also introducing students to the statelessness issue which has (with a few notable exceptions) historically not received the attention the issue deserves in undergraduate teaching programmes both in the UK and in other parts of Europe. As such it can hopefully serve to inspire similar initiatives in other European countries, particularly those where legal aid is also lacking.

During the first four weeks of term, the students are taught the law of Statelessness, certain practical skills (client interviews, drafting statements and legal representations and file management) as well as rules relating to representation of clients (e.g. professional conduct  and etiquette, information security and client confidentiality). From week 4 onwards, students interview clients in pairs in the presence of a specialist in-house immigration solicitor/barrister. The in-house practitioners retain full conduct of cases and the progress of student involvement is supervised very closely. Students engage in nationality law and country of origin research, incorporating relevant findings into written representations to the Home Office. A witness statement is finalised and the application form is completed. With the client’s consent, inquiries may be made to diplomatic missions or authorities overseas that determine nationality matters. Experts may be instructed where there are gaps in the information available in the public domain. Once all the evidence is prepared and finalised, it is submitted by post to the Home Office in Liverpool.

Liverpool Law Clinic, which is part of the School of Law & Social Justice, University of Liverpool, was founded in 2007. In the autumn of 2012, specialist immigration practitioners Dr Sarah Woodhouse and Frances Meyler were taken on as Lecturers in Law and Co-Directors of the Clinic to transform the Clinic from a student service providing written advice-only, legally supervised by external volunteer practitioners, into one that also provides free representation for immigrants and asylum-seekers.

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